Create better environment for gig workers

An increasing number of people are finding one-off jobs via smartphone apps. These individuals are called “gig workers,” but they do not have supportive work environments in some respects. The central government and companies should take urgent measures to address this issue.

The Tokyo metropolitan government’s Labor Relations Commission has ordered the operator of food delivery service Uber Eats to engage in collective bargaining with a labor union organized by delivery staff. This is the first time that labor authorities in Japan have recognized gig workers as workers under the Labor Union Law and granted them the right to collective bargaining.

The delivery staff receive requests for deliveries by smartphone and transport food from dining establishments to customers by bicycle or other means. There is no employment relationship with the operating company, and the delivery staff are free to choose when they work and in which areas.

However, about 30 delivery workers formed a union, demanding that the operating company explain the unclear salary system and pay compensation for accidents that occur during deliveries. The company responded by refusing to negotiate with the union, saying delivery staff were “individual proprietors, not workers.” For that reason, the union sought relief from Tokyo’s Labor Relations Commission.

The commission acknowledged that delivery workers were part of the labor force essential to the delivery business and that their salaries and rules concerning deliveries were set unilaterally by the company. This decision appears to have been based on the reality of the business, and was not bound by the lack of a formal employment relationship.

The company disagreed with the order and has filed for a review by the central government’s Central Labor Relations Commission. If the union’s claims are ultimately approved, the company will have to deal sincerely with the calls for better working conditions.

With the spread of the internet, gig workers have expanded into a wide range of fields, including moving services, warehouse packing and setting up venues for events, in addition to the home delivery business. Gig jobs are also said to have drawn in people who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, gig workers are in a weaker position than companies that commission work, and unlike employees, they are not covered by regulations on such matters as minimum wages and long working hours, which can lead to unstable incomes and livelihoods.

In other countries, a number of judicial rulings have deemed gig workers to be workers, and a trend toward improving their working environment is beginning to emerge. Such efforts need to be promoted in Japan, too.

To ensure that gig workers and other freelancers who take jobs on an individual basis can work with peace of mind, the central government has released guidelines saying companies must not reduce their compensation or unilaterally cancel orders.

However, the bill to protect freelancers was not submitted to the latest extraordinary Diet session, for reasons including the schedule for deliberations. Japan already has more than 4 million freelancers. The central government must speed up the establishment of legislation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 14, 2022)