Majority of gig workers earning below minimum wage, survey finds

A new report looking into the gig economy in New Zealand has revealed a majority of respondents reported earning below minimum wage.

Between September and December 2020, FIRST Union surveyed workers in the gig economy to examine who is engaged in the type of work, the nature of the work and their attitude towards it.

The results have now been compiled in a report titled Gig Work in Aotearoa which was released on Wednesday.

In one part of the survey, respondents were asked 'What would you estimate your average hourly rate is (after expenses)'?

Of the 53 people who replied, a majority 52.8 percent estimated their average hourly rate after expenses was less than the minimum wage of $18.90 (at the time).

Another 30 percent of respondents estimated their hourly rate after expenses to be between the then-minimum wage of $18.90 and 2021's scheduled minimum wage of $20.00. 

Only 17 percent of workers (less than one in ten) estimated that their average hourly rate after expenses was over $20.00.

"Given this survey was conducted before the minimum wage was increased to $20.00 an hour, it would be interesting to see whether this has had any effect on wages," the report said.

It noted one of the most common issues with gig workers' wages is workers exert "practically no influence over their wages".

"Calculating the payment of workers in the gig economy is the sole preserve of the platform itself, and if workers do not like it, the implication is they can go elsewhere."

The Council of Trade Unions Melissa Ansell-Bridges said in New Zealand there is an expectation everyone had access to fundamental basics at work. 

"'Gig work' is often perceived as being short term and temporary, and is almost always through online apps for ridesharing, delivery driving, and online-based work like software development. This work is extremely precarious and those doing the work are not considered to be employees by those in charge of the business.

"We are deeply concerned that precarious work is frequently really bad for working people. Insecure work equals insecure income. If people have no idea about their income then it is impossible to plan for the essential costs of life. Action is needed to protect these vulnerable working people."

New Zealand's Public Service Association (PSA) secretary Kerry Davies said everybody deserves to be treated with dignity in their work.

"We don't want any person to experience the desperation that comes with not knowing where their next dollar will come from.

"Many players in the gig economy exploit workers, by design. They deliberately sidestep employment standards in order to make more profit. Research shows that gig workers' employment is precarious and they are financially worse off than other workers. We need to stop this kind of exploitation in its tracks. We don't need it and we don't want it.

"Good and safe working conditions and decent pay for all working people is what will make our country thrive."