Becoming part of the “gig economy” where freelance work is transforming the traditional job market in step with advances in technology, Sydney resident Rosalina Kariotakis was among the first drivers to sign up when ride-hailing company Uber started in 2014.
For individuals who are seeking greater flexibility for less security – many of them are giving up benefits such as sick leave, life insurance and pension fund savings, mobile or online platforms are at the forefront of a boon in casual work.
The much-admired A$2.1 trillion ($1.60 trillion) system of retirement savings – the world’s fourth largest – which relies on mandated contributions by employers, in Australia is now strained by this sea change.
“Our research shows that contingent and part-time workers are missing out on A$150 million a year in super payments,” said Damian Hill, chief executive of REST Super, a superannuation fund with A$39 billion in assets.
Superannuations or supers, whereby employers pay a contribution of 9.5 percent on top of the employees’ wages, as it is known in Australia is among the few such programs worldwide that has a mandatory retirement system.
But not obliged to contribute to superannuations as the workers are seen as self employed are digital companies including Uber, Deliveroo, Airtasker and Foodora, which employ independent contractors.
And nervous about the absence of retirement savings is ariotakis, a former General Motors employee now in her mid-40s.
“It’s a big problem,” Kariotakis said, in response to how she envisages her finances when she retires. “At the moment, we can’t afford to put money aside.”
In Australia, which made superannuations compulsory in 1983 to reduce the reliance on the national pension system, as the gig economy grows, it signals a problematic trend for the retirement savings pool.
The dent on retirement savings could be significant in years to come, even though compared with the A$136 billion of annual contributions paid by employers in 2016, the gig economy’s “leakage” from the pension funds is a drop.
“When people are self-employed, their tendency to set aside money for retirement is secondary to their need to maintain cashflow for the business,” said Martin Fahy, the chief executive of Australia’s superannuation industry body.
an increasing number of individuals are freelancing for various digital outfits even as the scale of Australia’s gig economy – a relatively recent phenomenon – is yet to be reflected in official data.
The digital economy is already creating irrevocable changes in the country’s labor market as 32 percent of the country’s workforce had freelanced between 2014 and 2015, said the Australian Industry Group, a major business lobby, in an August 2016 report.
So that employers, such as Uber, are legally forced to pay pension benefits, Kariotakis is hoping to see modifications to the national benefits framework in the longer term.
policymakers are looking to alter the definition of employees and contractors to reinforce workers’ rights in the modern economy in the United States and Great Britain and such changes are already being considered there.
“We’d like to have a situation where it doesn’t matter whether it’s an employee or a contractor doing the work as long as they end up getting the same benefits,” said Professor Kevin Davis, a research director at the Australian Centre for Financial Studies.
“How you do it? I’m not sure.”
(Adapted from CNBC)