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‘Culture and education’ key to meeting gig economy standards: Airtasker chief

‘Culture and education’ key to meeting gig economy standards: Airtasker chief

Controlling an online platform with millions of members is difficult, says Tim Fung

Airtasker chief Tim Fung (front)

Airtasker chief Tim Fung (front)

Culture and education is far more powerful than control to ensure licensing and safety standards are being met by across the ‘gig economy’, says Airtasker founder and CEO, Tim Fung.

Airtasker came under fire from Unions NSW last month after jobs were posted on the site requesting workers to break up and dispose of asbestos sheeting with one worker paid $50 to remove five sheets of the material with only a safety mask for protection. Airtasker has since added asbestos and electrical contract licensing to the site.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said at the time that the gig economy had outpaced traditional regulation and called for a separate body to ensure licensing and safety standards were being met. He claimed that businesses establishing in the gig economy have a ‘catch us if you can’ mentality to regulation.

“You’ve got to look at what is the purpose of that regulation and not just say, ‘regulate it,’” Fung told CIO Australia at the AWS Innovation Day in Sydney on Tuesday.

Fung said any attempt to control a platform with millions of members – there are 2 million active accounts on Airtasker – is going to be difficult and not cost effective. Airtasker has pushed out educational content and uploaded price guides to the site to provide people with the right information, he said.

“The only step that we haven’t taken it to say, ‘we are going to monitor everyone’s phones and emails … to make sure that they are doing the right thing.’ I think what we need to say is that 99.9 per cent of people want to do the right thing and Airtasker creates a platform in which you are transparently connected with another human being.

“So suddenly you are aligned to wanting to do the right thing, because most people don’t want to do the wrong thing … we are making it totally transparent and saying, ‘hey, if you do the wrong thing, there will be a record left.’”

Fung highlighted the distinction between organisations operating in the so-called gig economy that are open marketplaces like Airtasker or agencies which define the scopes and prices for jobs.

“A marketplace doesn’t do that, we don’t define the price, we don’t define the scope of the jobs, and we largely don’t decide who gets to use Airtasker and who doesn’t; it’s very much a utility-type product,” he said.

“And when you do that, the first thing that you need to nail is transparency and trust between people. Our aim is to do that first and make sure there is a liquid economy of jobs happening on the platform – there are 5,000 jobs per day, so there’s quite a lot going on in there. Then you want to lay on top of that the education and making a system that incentivises people to want to do the right thing.”

Fung believes that in many cases, third-party regulation is ‘fantastic’ but in some cases ‘it’s a bit silly.’

“There are some licenses where you think, ‘that license is so easy to get, that sounds like a bit of bureaucracy to say, ‘great we have done our job and ticked the box to say, this person is licensed.’ You look deeper and you ask, ‘did we actually [discover] that this person knows what they are doing?'" he said.

He added that a lot of people use police checks as a proxy for ‘totally safe, completely checked, never going to do anything dodgy.’

“When you look deeper into that … it should be one small set of information before you decide that someone is going to be legit. Our aim is to bring all of those pieces together and allow people to say, ‘yes, he has an electrical contractor license, he’s got a police check and he’s done 1000 reviews.’ That’s a better picture of trust then having a piece of paper and we don’t even know if it’s current,” he said.

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Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly


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