95 per cent of gig workers want the sector reformed. Here’s why.

May 2023

Key Points

  1. A majority of gig workers were underpaid, and many cited abuse and injury at work as commonplace.
  2. Australia's largest ever survey of gig workers makes the case for gig work reform clear.
  3. Most workers didn't view their job as a side hustle; many worked over 40 hours per week.
  4. There is a wave of reform coming on IR, and gig work reform is vital.

Download the Tough Gig: Worker Perspectives on the Gig Economy report here.

In March, the McKell Institute teamed up with the Transport Workers’ Union and TEACHO to publish the largest survey of gig workers in Australian history.

It focused on transport workers across the ride-share, food and parcel delivery sectors.

The findings were published in Tough Gig: Worker Perspectives on the Gig Economy, and provide a unique insight into how workers in the gig economy really feel about their experiences.

The data paints an alarming picture. So too do the stories that workers told us.

This week, the McKell Institute shared these findings with the Albanese Government, on the eve of the next tranche of industrial relations reforms.

“The platform treats [us] like slaves and they deactivate if you ask any questions and they have ruined a lot of people’s lives” — Survey Respondent.

The next tranche of industrial relations reform is underway

Through 2023, the Government will consider the next steps in its industrial relations reform process, with a specific focus on improving conditions in the poorly regulated gig-economy sector.

In the past decade, ‘gig-work’ has exploded.

It is now commonplace not only in ride-share and delivery, but in other sectors — nursing, caring, cleaning, and more — where digital platforms match workers to jobs. It is also being seen in supply chains more broadly, as companies incorporate ‘gig-work’ models of employment into their broader practices.

The explosion of this type of work has outpaced measures to ensure it provides security, dignity and safety for the workers themselves.

The Government is currently considering expanding protections for ’employee-like’ workers in the gig economy.

Currently most gig workers are employed as independent contractors, but their working arrangement is akin to that of an employee.

The great innovation of ride-share and gig platforms is not so much the services they provide, but the novel employment structures they have utilised.

Gig platform firms have been savvy in designing methods to meet their labour needs that circumvent the conventional responsibilities of employers. This creates a competitive advantage, incentivising businesses in other sectors to replicate this model of employment.

Without regulation, these forms of ’employee-like’ contracting arrangements will metastasise throughout the Australian economy lowering conditions, pay and bargaining power for the Australian workforce.

“[The ride-share company] treats the drivers as though they are expendable, and constantly threaten to deactivate.” – Survey Respondent

Gig work isn’t just a side hustle

It is sometimes claimed that workers in the gig economy are just undertaking the work as a side hustle, or around other commitments. While this is true for some workers, it is not universally the case. Far from it.



In fact, the overwhelming majority of workers we surveyed depended on their gig platform job to meet their basic economic needs, just like any other worker in any other job.

41 per cent of workers surveyed worked over 40 hours per week; this rose to 48 per cent when asking only those who depended on their gig work job.

Not many people work 40 hours per week in 'side hustles'. This is their job. And it should entitle these workers to the basic protections and rights that employees in other industries have.

“I am underpaid and mistreated by [ride-share platform], they control the amount of money that I can make yet they underpay me. I only make about $12-13 an hour.” - Survey Respondent.

Data shows evidence of underpayment and dangerous conditions 

Our survey, conducted with the Transport Workers' Union and TEACHO, was the largest survey of gig workers in Australia, ever.

We asked over 1000 (n1036) workers about their experiences in rideshare, parcel and food delivery sectors where they worked as 'employee-like' independent contractors.

We categorised respondents into two groups: Dependent (those who stated they needed the job to survive), and Occasional (those who stated they were only occasionally using these platforms as a side hustle).

Few were satisfied with the status quo. Especially those who depended on these jobs to make ends meet.



Very few were happy with the money they were earning. Not only did around half receive under the minimum wage, most also had to finance their own equipment, further reducing their take home pay.


“I’m scared. Dangerous overloading and increasing number of parcel for the same working hours. They try and squeeze as much deliveries out of you as possible without increasing pay or time”  – Survey Respondent

Overall, many workers' pay reflected rates that were often below the minimum wage.

This was particularly the case in food delivery jobs, where 57 per cent of workers surveyed earned under minimum wage.




Almost every worker surveyed wanted reform

Importantly, our survey also found that 95 per cent of gig-workers desired more protections through better regulations.

The desire of this majority provides an impetus for government to enact responsible legislation designed to better protect workers in these industries, while retaining the flexible hours of work they also desire.


Flexibility can't be an excuse for underpayment

Genuine flexibility for workers is worth pursuing.

As work has fragmented, it is important that modern employment structures enable workers to undertake work that accommodates this reality. Workers, consumers and businesses all want this outcome.

But what is concerning is that flexibility has become a trojan horse for underpayment and even exploitation.

Now, the workers who make these modern services possible are calling for reform, so that they can continue to provide these services, but do so with more financial security and safety.

That doesn't seem like too much to ask.

“Ride-share drivers need to be supported by government in regards to rules and regulations” — Survey Respondent

“Should be made unlawful for gig economy companies to offer work that calculates to being below the national minimum wage.” – Survey Respondent.


Here's what we can do about it

The Government's reform process is now underway.

Fortunately, there are several reforms which we know will go a long way towards improving the working lives of those in the gig economy, including:

  1. Allow the Fair Work Commission to set enforceable standards for gig transport workers.
  2. Formally recognise the causal relationship between safety and conditions.
  3. Ensure reforms consider gig work in transport supply chains.

Ed Cavanough is Acting CEO.

Sarah Mawhinney is Executive Director, Queensland.

Download the Tough Gig: Worker Perspectives on the Gig Economy report here.