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Law Professor says NZ not equipped for so-called ‘gig economy’

22 November 2017

An employment law professor says New Zealand needs to improve its legal approach to the so-called ‘gig economy’.

The gig economy is a work environment where temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term employment.

But do these workers get the basic protections afforded to permanent employees?

Professor Gordon Anderson’s Transforming Workplace Relations in New Zealand 1976-2016, was published this month by Victoria University Press.

The book explores the evolution of New Zealand’s employment landscape since 1976, and speculates on the future of workplace relations.

Professor Anderson says New Zealand has not yet learned to deal with the gig economy legally, or indeed practically.

“Companies like Uber, or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, where the employment status is less than clear, and where the work is often short-term, or one-off, you start to have a group of people who miss out,” he says.

He says they’re not protected by the minimum wage, they miss out on holidays, and they’re probably never going to qualify for parental leave.

“The minimum protections usually revolve around being an employee rather than a contractor, and at least some of it revolves around continuity of employment.

“If people are operating outside that paradigm, they’re in a degree of difficulty, and no one has quite worked out what to do about it yet. You can’t use a mid-20th century legal structure to deal with a whole new mode of employment. I suspect over the next few years, dealing with all that is going to be the main problem,” he says.

Professor Anderson says with an increase in people working from home, the extent to which it’s appropriate for an employer to monitor those working for them also needs attention.

“Often when you’re working from home you’re on a computer. There are all sorts of technological systems – screenshots every few minutes, monitoring background noise – that can start to get extremely intrusive. With cameras, microphones, keyboards, stroke monitoring, location devices on phones… it’s scary how invasive some of this technology is getting.

“Plus, there’s the broader question about monitoring people’s lives outside of work – monitoring Facebook, monitoring Twitter. It’s an area that needs sorting out in a legal sense, but also in a moral and practical sense as well,” he says.

Despite these growing issues, Professor Anderson says that the 17 years since the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) has been a relatively stable period for workplace relations in New Zealand.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019