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Unions are taking the fight against wage theft to the next level with a new app that uses artificial intelligence to empower young hospo workers and help them turn the tables on dodgy bosses.

With IR policy set to dominate federal politics this week, digital union Hospo Voice (the hospitality arm of the United Workers Union) will today launch its new app Mobilise For Hospo Voice with an online event where hospo workers can get wage theft questions answered by AI live on Facebook.

Mobilise has an AI-powered chatbot backed by a team of volunteer experts. Mobilise can also check workers’ pay, record their hours worked and help them report harassment and bullying.

The new app Mobilise was beta-tested with union members over the last few months. So far 270 questions have been answered. Mobilise’s AI brain is already answering 35% automatically, with this proportion set to rise as more workers use the app.

Mobilise uses artificial intelligence (AI) to understand member questions and provide fast, reliable answers – tailored by factors like whether they’re casual, and which award they are on.

The app is powered by a volunteer team of Mobilise Experts, which include working chefs, waiters and bartenders, trained up to answer questions about workplace rights. Answers are checked by a Hospo Voice legal expert, before being added to the Mobilise brain.

Each new question asked by workers helps grow Mobilise’s library of answers and make its AI brain smarter. This means more hospo workers can get instant answers at their fingertips. Top questions include:

•             I’m about to do a trial shift at a venue, do I get paid for the trial?

•             When should my roster come out?

•             Can I be asked to do different duties to my normal duties?

Mobilise includes a suite of digital tools to empower young workers, including PayChecker, Record My Hours, an online Harassment Diary and Fact Sheets with tips on how to enforce workplace rights.

Hospo Voice is Australia’s first digital union and combines digital tools and digital campaigns to empower young hospitality workers. Mobilise is built with IBM’s Watson AI technology in a collaboration with the ACTU and US labour group United For Respect, which since 2016 has been using its WorkIT app to organise low-paid Walmart workers.

Hospo Voice was launched in 2018 as a Victorian pilot and in 2020 the project went national. Hospo Voice has helped expose many of Australia’s most notorious wage thieves, including George Calombaris, the Rockpool Dining Group and Dinner By Heston Blumenthal.

This year Hospo Voice also rolled out its game-changing website out across the country, helping expose wage theft at hundreds more venues, including the Sydney Collective hospitality empire and its flagship venue Watsons Bay Hotel.

United Workers Union is also experimenting with a similar AI-enabled app in the homecare and casino sectors, and is the first Australian union to use AI technology to organise and empower members.

Comment attributable to Karma Lord, Director of Hospo Voice at the United Workers Union:

“Digital technology has already reshaped the hospitality sector. Fingerprint scanners are used to clock on and off, apps have turned hospo jobs into gigs, and delivery apps are putting workers under more pressure than ever before. In most cases technology has reduced workers’ voice at work and made their jobs less secure. Young workers are at the sharp end of these trends.

Mobilise is a new frontier for young hospo workers. Our research shows they don’t want to talk to a call centre. They want information at their fingertips. This app puts the power in their hands to turn the tables on dodgy bosses.

Mobilise’s AI technology means that it is constantly learning, answering more and more questions instantly at whatever time of the day or night workers need help. As more workers use Mobilise, its AI brain will get smarter and smarter.

“During beta-testing we’ve already seen workers use Mobilise to fight back and win back thousands of dollars in stolen wages. This app has the power to help workers rebuild the hospitality industry, better and fairer than before Covid.”

Comment attributable to Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary:

“Unionism is about communicating with each other and sharing knowledge to make each other stronger – this is a great new resource which will give workers across hospitality access to critical information which can be constantly updated and improved.

“Working people will always be innovating and finding new ways to help each other. This is new technology but it has a very long and proud history in our movement.”

Comment attributable to Professor Anthony Forsyth, Discipline Leader, Law. Graduate School of Business & Law, RMIT University: 

“In my research on the innovative union prototypes needed to rebuild collective worker power, Hospo Voice stands out as a remarkable example of unions challenging wage theft and inequality through digital technologies.

“The Mobilise app is a fantastic new tool which is enabling hospo workers not only to call out unfair treatment, but also to find collective strength in the workplace. For many, this will be their first experience of trade unionism – what a way to start!”

Mobilise For Hospo Voice – Helping young workers WIN:

Annual Leave Win: Pub worker Madison came back to work after lockdown and found her old employer no longer had shifts for her. She ended her employment and believed she was owed $3100 in accrued annual leave. Her old employer had ignored requests to pay up.

Madison joined Hospo Voice and asked a question on Mobilise and found out she was owed $4230. She used one of Mobilise’s template letters, and sent this to her old employer requesting to be paid this money. She received it within 15 minutes of the letter being sent.

Stolen Wages Win: Lucy worked as a cook in an Italian restaurant in Adelaide. She was underpaid for 10 years. She received a flat rate of $21 per hour with no penalty rates. She checked her pay on Mobilise’s PayChecker tool and then asked a question about how to win back her stolen wages.

Mobilise Expert Jules supported Lucy and showed how to make an underpayment claim using our template letter. The employer admitted to underpaying her $15,000 in unpaid wages and long service leave, and has now repaid these stolen wages. Lucy has now moved on to a different job at another employer, where she is being paid properly.