Insecure Work in Australia Fact #5: Marginal Self-Employment
Self-employment has increased rapidly in recent years, accounting for 2.1 million Australians in 2017 — or over 18 per cent of total employment. Some celebrate self-employment as evidence of self-reliance, in many cases it represents desperate efforts by workers to support themselves in the absence of regular employment — or, worse yet, the artificial “creation” of nominally self-employed positions by businesses trying to evade traditional costs and responsibilities of being an employer. For example, under “sham contracting” arrangements, firms pay workers as if they were independent businesses (a common practice in several sectors, including cleaning, transportation and construction). Digital platform businesses have also been structured to avoid being considered “employers.”
Part-Time Incidence Among Self-Employed Workers
The insecure nature of most self-employment is evident on a number of grounds. Almost two-thirds of self-employed workers are not incorporated, and almost 60 per cent have no employees (meaning their access to time off work or continuing income in case of illness is minimal). And the proportion of self-employed individuals working part-time has grown markedly in recent years, reaching 35 per cent in 2017. Earnings for many self-employed Australians are low and unstable: for example, median earnings for part-time self-employed individuals with no employees were 60 per cent lower than for full-time paid employees.
 Centre for Future Work calculations from ABS Catalogue 6291.0.55.003, Data Cube EQ04.
 Centre for Future Work calculations from ABS Catalogue 6333.0, Table 7.1; includes incorporated self-employed only.