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Gig Work Down Under: Comparative evidence from an Australian National Prevalence Survey

Gig Work Down Under: Comparative evidence from an Australian National Prevalence Survey

 
Dr Penny Williams,
Professor Paula McDonald,
Associate Professor Robyn Mayes
Affiliation: QUT Business School, Brisbane, Australia
Division: Sociology and Humanities
 
The expansion of the gig economy is receiving increasing attention in Australia, as elsewhere. Regulatory changes have opened opportunities for digital platform businesses to enter new markets, such as personal training and fitness, or aged and disability care, and this has fuelled debate contrasting the opportunities for new employment against increasing concerns about employment precarity. The employment status of digital platform workers and the associated risks and benefits have been the focus of recent legal cases and government inquiries, along with countless features in news media. Within this context, and despite much speculation, there has been limited empirical evidence which has established the extent and nature of digital platform work in Australia. To address this, we undertook the first comprehensive survey into the prevalence and characteristics of digital platform work in Australia. This presentation will report selected findings from the National study on Australians and the Gig Economy.
Drawing on similar studies in Europe[i] and the United Kingdom[ii], we conducted a representative online survey of over 15,000 Australians during March and April 2019 to identify how many Australians use digital platforms to earn an income and understand the patterns of participation locally and through global digital platforms. Looking specifically at those who undertake digital platform work, we also explored the perceptions and experiences of workers who have engaged with digital platforms, including their motivations for seeking gig work and their satisfaction with various aspects of the digital platforms’ operations.
Respondents were initially asked a series of questions about whether they had earned an income or attempted to earn an income through digital platforms. This included for the purpose of selling, renting, leasing or licensing, or alternatively, for work that is internet-based or performed at a specific location. Respondents were also asked if they had ever attempted to purchase or hire goods or services, including labour, online – that is, had they ever been a client/customer or end-user of a digital platform. Our primary focus however, was on individuals who indicated they had recently participated in or sought work through a digital platform (within the last 12 months). These respondents were asked a series of questions in relation to all platforms (if they worked on multiple platforms) and more detailed questions about the main platform through which they worked. We also gathered data from an additional group of respondents who had previously, but no longer sought work through digital platforms.
Distinguishing between platforms that provide an income through selling, renting, leasing or licensing goods, and platforms that provide opportunities for work, we explain which industries and platforms are most commonly used by Australians to earn money and the demographic characteristics of those who participate. Our survey findings highlight the earning patterns of Australians working in the gig economy, and the amount of time that Australians are investing in gig work. The survey also reveals the motivations for participating in digital platform work, and importantly, the many reasons for ceasing to engage with platforms, many of which may not be unique to the Australian context.
To consider the wider implications of our findings, we compare patterns of participation in Australia with the findings from European and UK surveys to identify differences in how Australians earn an income through digital platforms compared to other national settings. Australia is a geographically dispersed country that offers unique opportunities and distinct challenges for digital platform businesses seeking to expand into this market. The study presents the first robust data set that draws attention to those challenges, offering new insights on local considerations and global variations in patterns of participation in the gig economy. Finally, the study raises important questions in relation to the regulation of digital platform work.
[i] Pesole, A. et al, (2018). Platform workers in Europe: Evidence from the COLLEEM Survey, EUR 29275 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018.
[ii] Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Good Gigs: A Fairer Future for the UK’s Gig Economy, April 2017; Balaram, B., Warden, J., & Wallace-Stephens, F. (2017). Good Gigs: A fairer future for the UK’s gig economy, available at: https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_good-gigs-fairer-gig-economy-report.pdf.