Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the federal government should intervene to give workers with companies like Uber and Airtasker the minimum wage and a chance to bargain.
“You can’t have a situation where you have now a whole subclass of workers,” Ms McManus said.
The Victorian survey found 47 per cent of workers in the gig economy do less than five hours a week, suggesting it is a second job for many. Only 5.4 per cent clocked more than 26 hours a week.
More than half the workers said they saw their earnings as “nice to have” but something they “could live without”. About 15 per cent said the money was essential for their basic needs.
While many workers in the sector did not know their hourly pay, those who did earned an average of $32.16 an hour. Up to 1 million Australians did gig economy work in the past year, the report found.
Mr Fung, whose platform is the most used in Australia according to the survey, said average figures for the gig economy could often be misleading because people at the extremes distorted the numbers and roles in the gig economy differed a lot from each other.
Services like Uber, Mr Fung said, were “commoditised” because drivers did the same tasks repeatedly.
“It’s not actually leveraging people skills for value,” Mr Fung said. On Airtasker, workers advertise services ranging from cleaning to legal services.
The Transport Workers Union, which has campaigned for the minimum wage and other mainstream worker protections to be extended to Uber drivers and food delivery riders, pointed to parts of the survey showing about a quarter of riders feel they are employed in a traditional sense.
“The federal government can no longer ignore the grim reality that unregulated gig work is creating an army of exploited workers who have no choice but to accept low rates, unpaid work and a scenario where neither their health nor their income is protected,” the union’s national secretary Michael Kaine said.
An Uber spokeswoman said drivers liked their flexible working hours and pointed to a report the company commissioned from consultancy Alphabeta showing drivers were satisfied with their work and pay.