Thursday, August 4, 2016

Digital disruption could rock workplace agreements, report warns

In a world of digital disruption with the likes of Uber and Air BnB, the focus is turning to how rapid changes to business and lifestyles could translate to the workplace.

A report out today looks at likely challenges to legal rights for both employers and employees given the move to contracting and more flexible work arrangements.

The law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth says businesses, governments and not-for-profits need to consider how they can adapt to the challenges of a fast changing digital economy.

Partner John Tuck told The World Today that navigating the rise of the sharing economy will be critical for Australian businesses and their employees.

"The nature of the impact is going to be very dramatic change in the way in which services are being delivered," Mr Tuck said.

"Couple that with automation and artificial intelligence, you can see that we are going to have a revolution in the way that work is being undertaken in Australia."

Mr Tuck agrees a major challenge is ensuring that workplace flexibility is not perceived as worker exploitation.

"Yes. And I think that any responsible business is set up in a way that is lawful and that they take notice of the proper regulation."

In its annual workplace report, the firm singles out the scandal involving the retail chain 7-Eleven where some employees were underpaid and exploited.

John Tuck says the 7-Eleven example highlights social and legal risks for companies that fail to ensure worker rights are protected in a flexible economy.

"The challenge for employers of course is how do we ensure that laws are being followed and that does create issues," Mr Tuck said.

"A prominent brand, a known brand may well have to put in new governance structures to ensure that those laws are being followed.

After the 7-Eleven revelations by the ABC and Fairfax Media, both major political parties ramped up policies to bolster employee protections and to impose higher penalties for breaches.

But with the rights checks and balances, the report says workers in the new economy can adapt while maintaining industrial protections.

"The new generations are going to embrace the portability and flexibility of new work opportunities as opposed to looking back through the rear vision mirror," Mr Tuck said.

Key challenges for employers are ensuring enterprises agreements are honoured while independent contractors understand superannuation laws and workers compensation laws.  

While the report recommends workplace reform, it says the close election result means there is limited prospect of any significant changes in the near term.

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