Companies like Uber may have added 250,000 people to the Australian workforce

Uber was recently legalised in Canberra. Martin Ollman/Getty

The “gig economy”, manifested in “micro jobs” found through digital platforms like Uber, Airtasker and Airbnb, may have added 250,000 people to the workforce, says a forthcoming report from the Grattan Institute.

Most of these people were among 1.1 million Australians who are either unemployed or underemployed, according to Jim Minifie, director of the Grattan Institute’s productivity growth program.

“That’s very welcome. It’s not to be sneezed at. Productivity is a game of tenths and hundredths,” Minifie told the Financial Review.

Minifie says platforms like Uber and Airtasker reduce frictions and mismatches in the labour market. This allows people with skills or availabilities that don’t suit the market – the “frictionally unemployed”, to find or create new opportunities.

Frictional unemployment is an inherent part of the labour market – around 1 million people change jobs every year and not all of them immediately find another. Further, as the Reserve Bank of Australia has pointed out, frictionally unemployed people do not necessarily benefit from an increase in labour demand as the economy grows.

While these platforms are not yet moving the aggregate labour market or productivity data – the combined jobs represent just 1% of the full-time equivalent workforce, the report says they are having impacts that will eventually add up.

These platforms have a long way to grow. Uber currently has just 15,000 drivers, with around 5,000 working on a full=time basis. The taxi industry, meanwhile, has around 60,000 full-time drivers. Although this may pick up as some of these platforms begin to be legalised around Australia.

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