Published on February 22, 2021 by Holly Porter

What’s been happening in the commercial world this week? Read on to find out!

Australia Clamps Down on Tech

Over the last few weeks, tensions have soared between Big Tech and Australia. The Government has been discussing the implementation of a new law, ‘the News Code’, which would force Big Tech firms to pay for news content posted on their platforms in the country. The legislation was designed to readdress the balance between tech giants and publishers over profits. Whilst both Google and Facebook have fought against the law based on it ‘penalising’ their platforms, they have differed greatly in their responses.

This week, Google entered into a landmark three-year partnership with News Corp. This will see Google provide Australia with trusted journalism for significant but as of yet undisclosed payments. Publications include New Corp-owned The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and MarketWatch, UK’s The Times and the Sunday Times, alongside many of Australia’s own news platforms.

In contrast, Facebook has now blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on its platform. The ban initially extended to government health-department emergency-services pages but these were later restored. The move could have long-lasting implications both in Australia and internationally. Facebook’s bold response to the News Code indicates the social media sites’ reluctance to negotiate on greater regulation – a topic at the Davos Conference 2021 and the concern of worldwide governments.

It should be remembered that EU lawmakers are currently discussing new digital regulation: the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which would see a similar financial implication for Google and Facebook as drafted in the Australian News Code.

Talking points: Is this a changing point for Big Tech? How strong is the net neutrality argument against greater taxes or regulation for companies like Facebook?

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Supreme Court Rules on ‘Gig Workers’

After a five-year legal battle, Uber finally has an answer to the contentious employment status of its UK drivers.

This week, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber’s drivers will be classed as workers. Six justices delivered a unanimous statement, dismissing Uber’s appeal that their drivers fell under the description of independent, self-employed ‘partners’. Uber drivers now deemed ‘workers’, are statutorily entitled to minimum wage, greater protection against unfair dismissal and holiday pay. The justices also found that drivers, regardless of passenger carriage, if logged into the app, were working. This could lead to a hefty compensation bill through which Uber would be liable to pay over $1.3bn in unpaid taxes. More clarification is needed on this.

The decision also has wider ramifications, fundamentally re-ordering the UK’s gig economy. Although the UKSC ruling came against the background of the pandemic when an increasing number of companies sought to proliferate such work, a ‘gig economy’ has caused concern for many years. In February 2018, a Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) report revealed 4.4% of the Great British working population had worked in the gig economy in the prior 12 months, roughly 2.8m people. Over half of these were aged 18-34. 48% of those working in the gig economy perform their services for courier companies. Alternatives include jobs found through websites and apps such as PeoplePerHour as well as provision of transport and food delivery services like Deliveroo.

The study also revealed 18% of those involved in gig economy work had used Uber. This shows that, whilst Uber is certainly a dominant force in the gig economy, the employment rights and statuses of many others such as rivals Bolt, Kapten and Ola must be revisited. Similarly, Deliveroo may need to revise employment contracts after a court decision prevented riders for the food delivery service from engaging in collective bargaining due to their self-employed status.

Find out why Uber was one of TLP’s companies of the year

Talking points: What do you think about the UKSC decision? What might this mean for Deliveroo? 



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