“This data shows us just how much we rely on gig economy workers,” he said.
“Our … inquiry will ensure we can plug the gaps and fix the inequities in the system to ensure these workers have the right to fair pay and safe working conditions.”
The report found some platform workers were earning less than the minimum wage – with unprecedented levels of monitoring and control by their “employers” – and often had little idea of their industrial rights or even their hourly rate of pay.
The 18-month study, the largest of its kind in Australia, reveals the gig economy to be much bigger than previously thought, with up to 7 per cent of working age Australians – just under a million people – doing platform work in the past 12 months and 13 per cent having done on-demand work at some time.
On the consumer side, the researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and University of Technology Sydney found almost two-thirds of Australians routinely rely on online platforms such as Uber or Airtasker to buy goods and services.
The state’s latest foray into industrial relations, its landmark wage theft laws carrying tough criminal penalties for employers who deliberately underpay their workers, passed the State Parliament this month and will come into force in July 2021.
But the new laws are potentially at risk of being overridden by law reform from the Commonwealth, which has responsibility for workplace legislation or from a court challenge from employer groups.
It is unclear what legislative powers the state might use to reform the legal landscape for the state’s on-demand sector when the full report of its inquiry into the gig economy, produced by former fair work ombudsman Natalie James, is unveiled in the coming days.
But one of the authors of the research, Professor Andrew Stewart from the University of Adelaide, said it had highlighted big policy issues for governments.
Mr Stewart said only a small minority, as few as 2 per cent, of on-demand workers were making a living from gig work alone, with almost all using platforms to supplement their regular incomes.
“But a lot of them are saying that this money is really, really important to them,” Professor Stewart said.
Many gig economy workers were in the dark about the ways in which their work was being controlled by the platform they used and their legal position was often very ambiguous.
“It’s not clear there are a lot of rights or protections or if they do exist, how they might be enforced,” Professor Stewart said.
“So there are big big policy issues here.”
The report – Digital Platform Work in Australia: Prevalence, Nature and Impact – found more than 100 different platforms are being used by respondents to undertake work, with Airtasker, Uber, Freelancer, Uber Eats and Deliveroo the five most popular
On-demand workers are more likely to be young, urban and male. People who speak a language other than English at home are 1.5 times more likely to be platform workers.
More than 30 per cent of respondents did not know if their platform had a dispute resolution process, while nearly half of respondents reported that their platform did not provide them with work-related insurance
Forty per cent of respondents did not know how much they were paid an hour, and an average of nearly five hours a week was spent on unpaid platform activities trying to get work, such as updating profiles, quoting and searching and bidding for jobs.
Matt Barrie, chief executive of “crowdsourcing marketplace” Freelancer, said that his platform “liberates workers” who can choose where and when they work.
“The gig economy is not one homogenous industry with a uniform business model,” Mr Barrie said.
“Any legislation must be cognisant of that – and should be at the federal level, not the state level.”
Airtasker, Uber, Uber Eats and Deliveroo and the federal government were all contacted for comment on Tuesday.
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Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age