Four-day work-week pioneer Andrew Barnes has taken up a new cause: the rights of the "gig economy" worker - but don't hold your breath for change with NZ First putting the breaks on the coalition's attempts at employment reform (keep reading).

The Aucklander gained global coverage earlier this year when he shifted his staff at Perpetual Guardian to a four-day work week.

Now, Barnes - who has an estimated personal wealth of $150 million - is shifting his focus to the rights of contractors; particularly those such as couriers and Uber drivers who do most of their work for one company, but are regarded as freelancers.

"In the nineteenth century, there was no superannuation or sick leave or paid holidays. People fought so hard to win those rights and now we're glibly throwing them away."


"I genuinely believe that we need to revisit our employment legislation to ensure that 'gig' contracts - which ostensibly provide flexibility - do not do so at the price of lost employee protections, and on terms which favour the employer," he tells the Herald.

"It's time to bring employment law into the twenty-first century and ensure all employees, gig or salaried have flexible working opportunities, but also the same protections and benefits. This stops arbitrage of hard-won, and necessary, protections," he says.

Barnes says that today, contract workers have one KiwiSaver account and one superannuation account that follows them from job to job. Why not also have sick days and leave days that are attached to them personally, he asks.

The Rich Lister sees a customer paying a bit extra for, say, an Uber ride, with the money going toward sick days and leave days.

Barnes met with Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway over his four-day workweek push. He says he will also seek to discuss his gig economy ideas with Lees-Galloway.

He could be in for a disappointment, or at least a long wait.

In July, Lees-Galloway said he was looking to introduce legislation to better protect the rights of independent contractors.

Lees-Galloway noted that beyond super, sick days and leave days, contractors are not covered by workplace safety laws, and expenses can see their remuneration fall below the minimum wage. "There's a shared view that the current situation is not ideal … it's not tenable," the minister said.


"We want to work alongside industry to find a better balance."

The possibility of enforcing a minimum wage for contractors would be "explored," Lees Galloway said, while the idea of allowing them to collectively bargain, would be "considered."

But a spokesman for his office says that will likely not happen until some time in 2019.

Why the slow track? The Government has faced business confidence headwinds, which may have made it more conservative about further changes to employment law - or at least seen it take its foot off the accelerator.

Lees-Galloway has also been bogged down with mini-scandals tied to his Immigration portfolio.

"The influence of declining business confidence is certainly making the Government more cautious," political commentator Bryce Edwards says.

"There is no doubt that the Labour-led Government has gone very cold on employment law reform lately," political commentator Bryce Edwards says.

"The influence of declining business confidence is certainly making the Government more cautious in the way it approaches all industrial relations issues. However, it's New Zealand First, in particular, that is slowing down progress and preventing more radical and progressive change from occurring at the moment. The party has a tradition of being more conservative on industrial relations, and they are now clearly being targeted successfully by business lobbyists. The pushback that New Zealand First gave on the planned repeal of 90 days trials shows the impact of this party in the coalition."

Edwards adds, "I think Iain Lees-Galloway is probably very keen to progress more employment law reform, but coalition management is making this very difficult. There are only so many issues that Labour can prioritise and make New Zealand First swallow a dead-rat over, and after the oil and gas exploration ban decision, employment law no longer appears to be one of these priorities."

There is also the case of The Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Bill, which is very relevant to "gig" economy workers, Edwards says.

"This legislation is in the house now, and if the Government wants to make an impact it can simply make sure the bill passes without being gutted. However, the bill has been put forward by Labour MP Kieran McAnulty, and the Government chose not to adopt it as a Government bill. This makes it much easier to be amended or voted down."

Barnes got revved up about gig worker rights after seeing developments in the UK, where a landmark London Employment Tribunal ruling could mean that Uber driver get the same rights as full-time staff - which unions calculate could be worth £18,000 per driver per year ("could" is the operative word because Uber is taking the case to the Court of Appeal).

Wouldn't it mean more expensive Uber rides if there was a similar development here?

So what? Lump it, Barnes says."If you wouldn't wear a T-shirt made in a sweatshop," don't take an Uber, he says.

Uber says its "partner drivers" enjoy perks such as being able to work when they want, or as much or little time as they want. And while this reporter has encountered a number of grumpy Uber drivers, they tend to be ex-taxi drivers. Others, including students and retired people, tend to be enthusiastic about the flexible working hours that come with being your own boss.

And the Herald recently spoke to a couple of Lime e-scooter "juicers" who were as happy as Larry.

But Barnes says gig economy worker enthusiasm is overstated. He points to recent research by the Foundation for Young Australians that found Millennials actually valued job security over career mobility.

And the Rich Lister - who at times sounds for all the world like he's campaigning for CTU president - also warns that trends like AI and machine warning will see the casualisation of jobs higher and higher up the white-collar food chain.

As things stand, we could be heading for a future where every job becomes a gig contract, Barnes says.