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Uber lifts safety game for Australian streets in world first

Nick Bonyhady (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Food delivery giant Uber Eats will help its riders stay injury-free on Australian streets by making them the first in its global workforce to access a new set of technology and safety gear following rider deaths that dragged attention toward regulation of the industry.

A week after Facebook agreed to pay news publishers in Australia under threat of regulation, Uber became the latest tech titan to adjust its practices in the face of pressure from Australian courts, unions and parliaments over the consequences of its business model.

From Tuesday, it will roll out a new object recognition feature in its app to detect whether its riders are wearing a helmet, require them to complete a checklist of their bike’s roadworthiness, and later this month, start distributing lights, reflective vests, bells and phone holders (though not helmets).

But the more resources a company provides to its workers, the more likely they are to be classified as employees than independent contractors and therefore entitled to the minimum wage, workers’ compensation and unfair dismissal protections.

Using contractors is key to Uber’s business model because it lowers costs and allows its workers more flexibility in their days, accepting orders from multiple platforms and to log on and off at will.

Uber Eats Australian general manager Matthew Denman said the legalities did not factor into its decision to deploy the new safety features, which follow the deaths of two Uber Eats riders in three days amid a spate of five deaths across the industry last year.

“What we said was: ‘how do we operationalise this and let’s get on and do it because it is the right thing to do so’,” Mr Denman said.


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