The Future of Work: The Gig Economy and Pressures on the Tax System
Canadian Tax Journal/Revue fiscale canadienne, 2020, Vol. 68, No. 1, p. 69-97
30 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 1, 2020
In a number of common-law jurisdictions, gig workers (that is, workers who provide services through the use of web-based digital platforms) have recently sought to claim labour protections reserved for employees, such as the minimum wage, sick leave, and protection from unfair dismissal. These cases often involve the application of the multifactorial common-law test of employment to this new context, and the outcomes turn on the specifics of each case. In addition, classification as an employee has ramifications for a variety of tax matters. In this paper, the author considers whether the tax rules currently in place to capture non-standard employment arrangements have sufficient flexibility to capture gig workers. The focus of the analysis is Australian taxes (in particular, income tax, compulsory retirement savings contributions, and payroll tax), but reference is also made to similar issues under the laws of Canada. The author submits that, with respect to Australian income tax, gig work does not present a substantial risk to the tax base as a legal matter; however, a risk to the national revenue base comes from the compliance gap that is exposed when workers are no longer covered by employers' withholding mechanisms but are not picked up by tax administration regimes designed with larger businesses in mind. The author suggests that reliance on the registration of small businesses through the Australian business number, coupled with a new mandatory reporting regime for gig work platforms, would go a long way toward filling the transparency gap, and that doing so would both foster the voluntary compliance of gig workers and provide revenue authorities with data that could be used to detect non-compliance. A real risk exists that many gig workers will be outside the scope of the retirement contributions scheme and payroll tax and that the government, in consequence, will need to consider whether it is appropriate policy to change the law to include these on-demand workers.
Keywords: Gig workers, income taxes, tax administration, superannuation, payroll taxes, Australia
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