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Gig economy absorbs 7 percent of Australia's workforce

Christian Fernsby ▼ | June 19, 2019
Seven percent of Australia's workforce are now employed in the gig economy, according to new research commissioned by the Victoria State Government.
Australia's workforce
Australia   Australia's workforce
As part of Australia's first ever inquiry into the "on-demand" labor sector, the study surveyed over 14,000 people across the country to shed light on the size and scale of the digitally-enabled workforce.

Among the key findings were that 7.1 percent of respondents had used at least one of the more than 100 online platforms operating in Australia in the past 12 months to find work, with younger men two times more likely to work in the gig economy than women.

The research also found that 15.5 percent of workers in the gig economy consider it "essential for meeting their basic needs," while a further 24.3 percent agreed that on-demand work was an "important part of overall income, but not essential."

"It's clear the gig economy affects many Australians and many Victorians. It's why we're pushing ahead with our inquiry and leading the way in responding to the challenges of this sector," Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said.

"According to these findings, many Australians are relying on gig work to make a living. It's crucial these workers have the right to fair pay and safe working conditions."

But while most respondents remain "highly satisfied" with the flexibility offered to them by digital platforms, issues surrounding exploitation and low wages continue to be a major concern for workers, according to legislators and experts.

"The Inquiry is looking at whether there's any necessary legal measures to put in place, or any legislation to put in place to improve labor standards in the gig economy," labour law expert and senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, Dr Michael Rawling, told Xinhua.

"By and large, the majority of gig workers are earning below the minimum wage, which is a crucial issue for the whole of the workforce in Australia because once you have one group and now a significant group of workers working below the minimum wage, it puts downward pressure on wages."

Although it's illegal to pay employees less than minimum wage in Australia, tech firms are able to skirt this regulation according to Rawling, by designating workers as independent contractors.

"One worker was actually bashed at work while he was driving an Uber service, and he was off sick for eight weeks and had to go overseas to have surgery," he said.

"There was no worker's compensation or sick leave so he had to go without a wage for a considerable period of time."

Often referred to as "digital disruption," the rapid rise of new technology and digital platforms has presented a major challenge to regulators and traditional industries around the world, who have mostly struggled to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.

"These large tech companies, their business model is to change or circumvent the regulatory framework. So they seem to give scant regard to what the regulatory framework actually is when it comes to labour standards in Australia," Rawling said.

"I think the goal of many of these companies is to manipulate the lack of clarity in the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor."

"I think that to rectify this, is to have some sort of governmental decision-maker being able to designate groups of workers as having legislative entitlements such as minimum wage, annual leave and sick leave."

While the debate continues on how gig economy workers can better be protected in the future, one thing seems very clear the rise of these platforms is set to increase.

"I see significant growth across all of the types of work that can be done," Rawling said.

"It's not transport work, it's not just low wage work. it's also professional work. It's caring work, it's legal work, it's accounting work and more."

The Victorian Government's inquiry is set to hand down its findings before the end of 2019.