Concern over ‘Uber for job seekers’ app

Workers’ union United Voice has expressed concerns over a new app it says will normalise sub-contracted hospitality work, while the app’s founder says he is just responding to a growing trend.

The app Squaddle connects businesses with hospitality workers at short notice allowing for freelance workers to provide quotes for their service.

United Voice WA branch Assistant Secretary Karma Lord said shifts for hospitality workers away from reliable jobs could only harm the industry.

Ms Lord said hospitality “relies on people being focused on customer service, not how to make ends meet or where their next pay will come from”.

“Squaddle, on our first impression, looks like an opportunity to create even more uncertainty in hospitality workers lives,” she said.

Ms Lord said contracting via Squaddle may mean hospitality staff fall short of necessary training.

“The move to hyper-casualised or gig work and a lack of training puts workers and customers at risk,” she said.

Lucky Chan’s used the Squaddle app to fill a position at its pop-up food stall at the Elizabeth Quay Night Noodle Markets in March.

Lucky Chan’s general manager Lee Bardsley said the app allowed a sick worker’s position to be filled at the last minute.

Mr Bardsley said Lucky Chan’s did not use the app for its in-store team.

He said that training for pop-up food services only needed to be minimal as most of the instruction required was to “simply show them around …, walk them through the dishes and show them how we want them to speak to customers”.

Mr Bardsley said that training full-time restaurant staff was another matter altogether.

“Before we let the employees interact with guests, they must pass these trials and tests, therefore apps such as Squaddle are not suitable for the restaurant environment that looks to provide a specific guest experience,” he said.

Squaddle founder, James Hill

Squaddle founder James Hill said qualifications of contractors on the app may vary but many contractors have completed certificates in hospitality and food hygiene as well as their responsible service of alcohol courses.

“The gigs on Squaddle are short-term in nature and not ongoing so there isn’t any training needed, just a brief induction,” Mr Hill said.

Each Squaddle contractor’s profile gives detailed information and ratings on the hospitality worker’s skills and experience, allowing businesses to determine the compatibility to satisfy immediate needs.

Mr Hill said Squaddle was better suited to hospitality professionals that could easily adapt to changing environments and enjoy their freedom.

“Working as a contractor for multiple businesses or as an employee for many employers is a trend that is continuing to grow across Australia,” he said.

Ms Lord said she was wary of apps like Squaddle that she said blurred the line of independent contracting and employment.

“The examples some employers use show that they themselves don’t fully understand the distinction and could get into real trouble under the Fair Work Act,” she said.

Photograph by: Jasmine Uitermark-Thaung

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