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Is the gig economy worthwhile to individuals as the industry booms during a pandemic?

After his garden lighting business slumped due to lockdowns, Jonathyn Morley from Nambour signed on to become a delivery driver for an online platform.

And with that move, Mr Morley became part of Australia’s burgeoning $6.3 billion gig economy.

According to the Macquarie dictionary, the gig economy is “individual workers … employed on a contract to do a particular task for a set time with little connection to their employer”.

They include “dog walkers, people who do food shopping and deliveries [and] drivers in ridesharing services”.

Person holding a phone tracking an Uber driver
Rideshare and food delivery companies have seen a spike in lockdown use, but critics say that they can be a form of slavery for contractors. (

ABC News: Malcolm Sutton

)

Mr Morley said he got the idea to sign up to a driving platform from his wife.

“[She] was working at a bottle shop and she mentioned that they were having problems with delivery drivers, so I signed up on an app … to give it a go,” he said.

“The good thing about the app is that it tells me where the delivery needs to be picked up and dropped off, and the price, so that way I can make the determination whether I want to take the job or not.

Gigs see nine-fold growth

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in April 2020, underemployment hit a record high of 13.8 per cent, and in June of that year, unemployment hit a record high of 7.5 per cent — the highest level in over 20 years.

For lots of people the gig economy was a way of keeping money trickling in, and flexible.

Danielle Scott from Mackay started delivering food in June last year after losing her job at a local restaurant.

“I signed up as it worked around my duties as a single mum,” she said.

“I start driving at around 11:00am until 3:00pm, then I pick up the kids and then jump back on from 5:00pm to about 9:00pm,” she said.

Masked delivery driver in a car with a bag of takeaway food.
The gig economy grew during 2020 lockdowns with restaurants solely reliant on drivers. (

Supplied: Uber

)

According to the Actuaries Institute, the Australian gig economy figure of $6.3 billion was a nine-fold rise between 2015-2019, with a gain of 32 per cent in 2019 alone.

Career trainer Sue Ellson, author of Gigsters: Any Age or Ability Employees, Experts and Entrepreneurs, said technology was changing workplaces.

“In the future we have to be open to the idea of doing a number of different things.”

Sue Ellson holding up a copy of her book Gigsters at its launch in 2019
Author Sue Ellson says that we can’t consider the idea of a job in the future, instead we have to consider the idea of work.(

Supplied: Sue Ellson

)

Ms Ellson said thanks to technology we can work from home or work when it suits us.

“I use the term gigsters as someone who uses technology to attract aligned gigs,” she said.

“People can work out what their skills are and use technology to cherry pick the gigs that suit them.

“We can now have a better life rather than just working 9-5.”

Ms Ellson said despite businesses closing, the pandemic increased the gig economy.

“A lot more people are now prepared to use technology compared to before the lockdowns,” she said.

“A lot of businesses embraced technology during lockdowns to keep business turning over [and] employing gig economy workers to make it work.”

Divesting responsibility

While there are benefits to the gig economy, Ms Ellson said there were also negatives.

“If you see a window cleaning job … for $30 at someone’s house, by the time you get there, clean the windows, and supply the equipment it may not be worth $30 to you.

“But if you do it for a small business and they like what you do they may ask you to come back and do it regularly.”

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Australia’s gig economy and casual workforce in the spotlight.

While some riders and drivers are happy with their working conditions, others say the work can be dangerous.

Delivery riders and drivers have fewer rights compared to employees, such as a minimum wage, superannuation, workers compensation, and paid leave.

In late 2020 five delivery riders died nationally over a three month period.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) argues the system is designed to exploit workers and allows companies to divest themselves of responsibility to their riders.

A masked food delivery driver waiting on an order at a fast food restaurant
Delivery drivers are independent contractors and therefore have fewer rights than employees.(

Instagram: Abuzar

)

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said regulation of the industry, including reviewing the work status of riders, was urgently needed.

 “This is a sector that’s totally unregulated,” he said. 

“We really need governments … particularly the federal government to step up and acknowledge this and deal with the consequences.”

Source: bing.com

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