A bathroom for a comfort break, a staffroom to heat a meal, make a hot drink and converse with a co-worker. It’s something most workers take for granted. But what do you do when you don’t have one set physical workplace?
It’s a daily issue facing gig economy workers across the city. Left with little choice but to stop at 24-hour fast food restaurants or shopping centres to take breaks and use the amenities during their shifts.
Recognising the need for a dedicated communal space for gig workers, delivery driver Andrew Copolov set out to find a solution.
As part of his studies, the Monash University Architecture PhD student who has a keen interest in social infrastructure, began researching how food delivery riders use the city.
His research overwhelmingly showed that almost all riders surveyed would use a dedicated meeting place specifically for gig workers if one existed.
So when Andrew, 27, saw a City of Melbourne callout seeking expressions of interest to use a repurposed shopfront for a good cause, he threw his hat in the ring.
His proposal was successful and in December he hosted a pop-up Gig Workers’ Hub at the council-owned Micro-Labs on Bourke Street.
Keen to build momentum, Andrew successfully applied for a Connected Neighbourhoods Small Grant to host a longer trial at Testing Grounds in the Queen Victoria Market precinct in May.
The benefit of the seven-day trial was that the extra time enabled the initiative to gain “momentum and get the word out” among gig workers’ chat groups. And it paid off.
“Drivers could meet one another, discuss shared concerns, exchange practical tips, receive professional advice, enjoy free food and refreshments, and access basic amenities, all in one place,” Andrew said.
“Gig workers from across the city had a space which was specialised, convenient, inclusive and multilingual; most importantly, a space which was entirely their own.
“Most encouraging of all was witnessing delivery riders meeting each other and forging connections, many of which will exist far beyond the event itself. If the Gig Workers’ Hub was to exist on an ongoing basis, this would provide new migrant riders and seasoned gig workers alike with an independent and culturally attuned point of contact and support.
“The success of this event marks a definitive step toward the establishment of a permanent refuge for Melbourne’s precarious gig workers. It’s essential for dignity and belonging.”
With good attendance during the trial, Andrew reached out to the City of Melbourne to see if the Gig Workers’ Hub could become a more permanent offering.
Keen to support our city’s delivery workers who play a vital role in our city’s economy, the Gig Workers’ Hub has reopened at Micro-Labs in busy Bourke Street providing riders and drivers with a place to rest and meet others.
The hub is open every Thursday and Sunday afternoon until the end of the year.
It is equipped with basic amenities including bathrooms, a kitchen with free refreshments and charging points, and provides a comfortable space for workers during extreme climate events.
“Gig workers tend to be pretty fresh here to Melbourne, it’s the first port of call in terms of employment for new migrants,” Andrew said.
“And as they often don’t have support networks around them, it’s nice for them to be able to speak to others in their own language.
“I am incredibly grateful for the support of the City of Melbourne in helping trial this initiative.”
Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said gig workers play a vital role in keeping our city moving “connecting thousands of local businesses with customers across Melbourne”.
“We’re delighted to offer our gig worker communities a home base at Micro-Labs in the heart of the city. It’s a place where drivers and riders can come to recharge and connect with their peers,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.
“We’ll continue to monitor trends and assess how we can better support Melbourne’s gig economy community into the future.”
Micro-Labs will gather data around attendance patterns via its sensor technology, and the Gig Workers’ Hub will continue to gather data on rider experiences to help further strengthen the case for a permanent solution.
With the support of unions, all levels of government and delivery platforms, Andrew hopes to ultimately create a network of gig workers’ hubs across Melbourne.
Micro-Labs was one of three winning projects selected as a pilot through the Reimagining the City challenge proposing to reimagine city tenancies to better match community needs. For 12 months it has been collecting data to understand how this space is used. More than 17,000 visits, 350 events and 60 organisations have been counted. Micro-Labs was co-designed with local community and businesses and is a flexible, inclusive, digitally-enabled and free community space. The trial period has ended and City of Melbourne is exploring the next steps and ways the learnings can inform future spaces and projects.