Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Yesterday Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — Crikey’s standout Clown of the Week — told The Australian Financial Review that the company is considering a trial process in Australia whereby drivers bid for rides and set their own prices.

It’s an obvious attempt to clear up all those pesky questions about the company’s responsibilities towards the workforce it relies on, cementing their status as independent contractors rather than employees. Or, as Khosrowshahi inevitably tells us, it’s “designed to empower drivers”.

Consider the string of events that lead to this announcement. In the last three months, five people have died while working for gig economy food delivery services.

The gig economy is designed to strip away not only sick leave, the minimum wage and unfair dismissal protections but also workers’ compensation and requirements around training and protective gear. Uber is one of the only gig economy companies to even provide its workforce with insurance.

Beyond that, we have just lived through a year where, time after time, states have been dragged to a halt by a virus that is most efficiently spread by workers and independent contractors who can’t take sick leave and work across several workplaces.

Uber didn’t invent insecure work, but it supercharged it and made it a dominant and legitimate basis for new businesses; every app-based gig economy innovation was invariably described as “Uber, but for … “, and people were happy to ask no further questions about the conditions faced by the people who staff them.

Whatever the gaps in the protections of the Fair Work Act, the gig economy created a giant workforce with no protections at all. In the last few years the illegality of a lot of this has become clearer and clearer.

So, at the end of this cycle, Khosrowshahi’s completely predictable response is to make sure his workforce is even less protected.

We know this process of chipping away will continue until Uber entirely automates (or just collapses) and wipes out a huge workforce — a workforce that, thanks to the dominance Uber and its ilk, may have nowhere else to go.