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By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc and Australia's main transport union agreed on Tuesday to back a federal body that enforces minimum pay for the company's drivers, joining a global thawing of relations between the ride-hailing giant and industrial bodies.
In a joint statement, Uber and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) said they signed an agreement to support an unspecified federal body to "set minimum and transparent enforceable earnings and benefits/conditions for platform workers".
The new body would also oversee disputes that resulted in drivers in the so-called "gig economy" having their accounts shut off, and protect drivers' rights to organise with a "collective voice", the statement said.
The move, though largely symbolic, reflects a broader response by the San Francisco tech giant to pressure from unions around the world to put a floor under wages that supersedes its fee-setting algorithms.
The company has struck similar agreements with unions in Britain, Canada and some U.S. states, but often after court rulings or changes to the law that favour guaranteed levels of pay.
In Britain, a court ruled in February 2021 that Uber's drivers were its "workers", thus entitled to the national minimum wage. In May, the company said it would formally recognise Britain's GMB trade union.
Australian courts have continued to support Uber's argument that its drivers are independent contractors. But an inquiry by the state of New South Wales recommended in April setting up a tribunal to set "minimum pay and conditions for gig workers".
At that inquiry, Uber had said paying drivers a minimum wage would stop them using other platforms and force them to accept a set number of rides, undermining their flexibility.
In the statement on Tuesday, Uber general manager for Australia Dom Taylor said the company wanted "to see a level playing field for the industry and preserve the flexibility that gig workers value.
"It is critical that earners continue to be part of the regulatory conversation and that their collective voice is heard," he added.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the agreement was "a significant and positive development in the years-long campaign led by gig economy workers to modernise out-of-date industrial laws".
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)