‘Driven by rideshare businesses’: Fresh ABS data shows courier and delivery services lifted Australian business figures even before the pandemic

  • A 2.0% growth in the number of Australian businesses over 2019-2020 was driven by ride share businesses, new ABS data suggests.
  • The transport, postal, and warehousing sector was the fastest-growing for the sixth year running.
  • An increasing number of non-employing businesses also suggests an uptick in independent contractors driving in the gig economy.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

A 2.0% increase in the number of Australian businesses between 2019 and 2020 was largely driven by new ride share workers and delivery riders, suggesting the gig economy significantly outperformed other sectors even before coronavirus shutdowns took hold.

Tuesday’s Counts of Australian Businesses, including Entries and Exits report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed Australia added 46,651 businesses over 2019-2020, with the most significant gains found in the transport, postal, and warehousing sector.

The overall number of businesses in those fields grew by 10,401 to 200,741, the largest percentage increase of any industry group tracked by the ABS.

The figures suggest a wave of sign-ups to ride share and delivery services, many of which ask workers to hold individual ABNs and operate as independent contractors.

Luisa Ryan, Director of the Business Register Unit at the ABS, told Business Insider Australia the transport, postal, and warehousing division has been the fastest-growing sector for six years running, with much recent growth “driven by rideshare businesses.”

“In 2019-20 the growth was driven by courier and pick-up and delivery services, which had a 37.9% increase,” Ryan said.

The ABS said its June 2020 business turnover figures were effectively ‘lagged’ by six months, and did not reflect the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Australian businesses in 2020.

But experimental point-in-time employment data, which the ABS said more accurately reflects business conditions through 2020, shows a 3.8% increase in the number of non-employing businesses. That represents a likely uptick in the number of sole proprietors.

At the same time, the number of businesses employing 20-199 workers dropped by 12.3%. The number of businesses with more than 200 employees dipped by 5.3%.

via ABS

“In four of the five industry classes with the highest net growth in 2019-20, non-employing businesses accounted for more than 70% of total businesses,” the ABS said in its Tuesday release.

Taken together, the figures suggest Australian workers were turning to the gig economy in the months before mandatory coronavirus shutdowns shuttered traditional businesses nationwide, and continued to sign up through 2020.

While ride share platforms have been shy to comment on how many drivers and delivery riders they added over last year, ongoing recruitment in the Australian gig economy would hardly be a revelation.

In September 2020, Deutsche Bank chief economist Phil O’Donaghoe speculated the ‘non-employees’ driving jobs growth were “delivery drivers, and riders, of major online delivery services [who] are not employed by their respective delivery companies.”

Separately, Uber and ride share competitor DiDi told Business Insider Australia that customer demand outside Victoria had largely returned to pre-pandemic levels by September.

Tuesday’s data comes amid increasing focus on workplace protections for gig economy drivers and riders, who unions and the Labor Party argue deserve greater security under industrial relations legislation.