A Better Future for Self-Employment

How is it changing, and how can ‘gig’ work be regulated?
by David Peetz

This report considers and challenges two common myths about self-employment.

The first is that self-employment is inexorably growing. The second is that self-employment cannot, or should not, be regulated in order to protect self-employed workers and improve the conditions of their work.

This new report from the Carmichael Centre at the Centre for Future Work shows that, in reality, self-employment is not growing inexorably — in fact, in most countries (including Australia) it is declining.

The much-trumpeted surge in self-employment and ‘freelancing’ is a myth. However, the nature of self-employment is changing: fewer self-employed people are running successful independent businesses, and more are engaged in precarious ‘solo’ activities like short-term contracting and part-time ‘gig’ work.

The report also shows that some forms of self-employment can be regulated to protect affected workers, provided two simple and important criteria are satisfied: the workers are vulnerable and hence need protection, and a viable mechanism exists that enables their work to be efficiently regulated.

The report reviews the proposed provisions of the second part of the federal government’s new Closing Loopholes legislation, which would allow for minimum labour standards to be applied to digital platform workers and owner-operators in the transportation sector. The new legislation (to be considered in Parliament in 2024) is an appropriate and effective response to the challenges facing these two groups of ‘gig’ workers.

Please see the full report, “A Better Future for Self-Employment: How is it changing, and how can ‘gig’ work be regulated?,” by David Peetz, Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow at the Centre for Future Work.

Full report