USU promotes exploitative student jobs at DoorDash

The University of Sydney Union (USU) has announced a partnership with food-delivery service DoorDash in a Facebook post released on Friday.

The USU’s decision is surprising considering they are a student-serving body, which conflicts with DoorDash’s business model: DoorDash workers are labeled as contractors rather than employees, and are thus vulnerable to exploitation including underpayment.

A Facebook ad for the USU’s DoorDash partnership specifically targeted USyd students, promising an average wage of $ 34 / hour. While this claim was qualified by the small-print text “actual earnings may vary”, it varies from DoorDash’s official website, which advertises average earnings of $ 31 an hour for drivers.

DoorDash is not required to pay its workers the minimum wage as they operate as ‘contractors’, instead paying them per delivery. As such, it is difficult to validate the company’s claim that worker payment is above the minimum wage, and seems likely that being able to legally underpay workers is the rationale.

In 2021, a class action was launched against DoorDash in the US, where employees claimed that DoorDash directed them away from deliveries at non-partnering restaurants, further reducing workers’ ability to attain pay. A similar model used by DoorDash’s competitor Uber was found to systematically underpay workers.

A lack of employee status also means that DoorDash drivers and workers are unprotected from unfair dismissals. In 2021, Uber settled an unfair dismissal suit launched by former employee Amita Gupta for $ 400,000 despite estimates that her settlement would have typically amounted to around $ 15,000. National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), Michael Kaine, stated that this decision would ensure the case did not go to Court, where Uber’s “exploitative” business model, the same model used by DoorDash, could be ruled as illegal.

The gig work demanded by DoorDash is also highly dangerous. The NSW Government launched an inquiry into the safety of food delivery drivers in 2020, following five deaths in a two month period.

Working for DoorDash is disproportionately harmful for international students. International student visas have historically only allowed 20 hours of work per week during the semester. Being underpaid places a cap on what these students can earn overall. DoorDash’s flexible work model means that some students view it as a loophole. This can lead to international students inadvertently breaking their visa requirements out of the need to earn enough to survive.

USU President Cole Scott-Curwood told Honi“Through partnerships, the USU aims to bring value to our 40,000+ members and generate income… Operational decisions are coordinated by USU management, but having the right partners is a… priority for the Board.”

Scott-Curwood added, “As someone who works in the gig economy, I know it is critical to improve standards.”

Scott-Curwood pointed to the agreement signed by DoorDash and the TWU in May as evidence of improving work conditions for DoorDash drivers. However, the deal merely commits to beginning a process of regulation, with no meaningful changes to pay, conditions or legal protections having yet eventuated from the deal.

The USU should question partnering with an organization as exploitative as DoorDash. Their decision to do so reflects their status as a primarily profit-driven institution, as opposed to one solely focussed on the interests of students, who this partnership will likely hurt.

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