Slater and Gordon lawyer Jasmina Mackovic said the decision did not mean that all gig economy workers were entitled to compensation for deaths or injuries because of differences between companies and workers’ practices, but that the decision potentially opened the door to other payouts.
“It’s massive,” she said. “Until less than a month ago, it was unheard of … but this is showing we’re moving in the right direction, showing they are workers and they deserve all the minimum basic rights that you get in Australia.”
Many firms such as Uber and Deliveroo offer personal injury insurance to their couriers, but it sometimes has different payout caps and eligibility rules to traditional compensation schemes.
Australia’s courts, regulators and tribunals have ruled repeatedly on whether gig economy workers are employees, with most concluding they are contractors.
HungryPanda spokeswoman Kitty Lu said the company was aware of the decision, noted the insurer was making the payout and pointed to safety measures implemented since Chen’s death.
“Our thoughts are with the Wei family at this difficult time,” Lu said. “Drivers’ safety is our number one priority as an organisation and HungryPanda shall keep working hard to keep our drivers safe.”
Mackovic said EML was now likely to seek extra premiums from HungryPanda if it took the view that the rest of its workforce were employees, which Lu did not address. EML declined to comment, saying it does not discuss individual cases.
Transport union boss Michael Kaine paid tribute to Wei’s doggedness, hit out at the industry and called for the government to urgently legislate its promise to let the industrial tribunal assign employee-like rights to gig workers.
“For too long, gig companies have been able to skirt the edges of our outdated industrial relations law which divides workers into two camps: one which receives hard-won rights, and one which is not entitled to any basic protections,” Kaine said.
The NSW government has considered adding a levy to food deliveries to pay for insurance, but that has not been legislated.
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