Research| Social Protection

Gig Work: Side Hustle or Main Job?

Part 1. The reality of hours worked in the gig world

How significant is the role of gig work to those working in the gig economy? We ask this question and more in this research piece.

By Edwin Goh | 18 December 2019

Pioneer e-hailing and delivery gig platforms MyTeksi (now Grab) and Uber entered the Malaysian market in the early 2010s. Since then, these platforms and others like them have become an indispensable service for urban consumers. Gig platforms and the gig economy have also become a major source of income for an estimated 250,000 gig workers around the country (industry estimate).

In its early days, gig work was seen as casual work, a way to make extra money. But today, gig work has become increasingly important in making ends meet. How much do gig workers rely on their gig work? We asked this question and others in a recent study to understand the significance of gig work and what this could mean for gig workers’ employment status and social protection.

About the study

Between 15 October 2019 and 16 November 2019, The Centre conducted a survey of e-hailing and delivery drivers, a major segment of gig workers. A gig worker is defined here as an individual that performs on-demand services using digital gig platforms such as Grab or Foodpanda.

The survey was adapted from a study by NatCen (2018), comprising questions on hours worked, the contribution of gig income, participation in social protection schemes amongst many others. The survey, in both digital and hard copy formats, was distributed via snowball sampling i.e. peer-to-peer spreading through gig worker networks such as the Malaysia E-hailing Drivers Association (MeHDA) and social media groups with a large gig worker membership.

After removing responses that did not meet the sampling criteria, the survey sample size numbered 411 qualified responses out of 464 collected responses. With an estimated population size of 250,000-300,000 gig workers, this sample size provides an over 90% confidence level that the survey results represent the general direction of the situation on the ground.

74% of qualified respondents provide e-hailing services while the remainders provide delivery services. 94% of respondents are male. Age-wise, most are of prime working age with 6% of respondents between 18 – 24 years old, 32% between 25 – 34 years old, 36% between 35 – 44 years old, 21% between 45 – 54 years old and 6% aged 55 years and above.

A cautionary note: As there is no official record of the number or the demographics of gig workers in Malaysia for reference, this survey should not be taken as a representative stratified sample. Gig workers with lower levels of digital and linguistic literacy may also be under-represented. Finally, as in most surveys, there is evidence of some respondents over- or under-reporting to certain questions; such outliers were identified and omitted. The remaining sample size in these cases still provides a confidence level exceeding 90%.

This study is divided into two parts. This article, part 1, covers the dependence of gig workers on gig work. Part 2, which will be published next week, will cover gig workers’ views on social protection.

Note: x-axis figures may not appear for some screen sizes. Please tap or mouse over the bars in the graph for figures.

What is the importance of gig income to gig workers?

Our survey revealed a picture of two nearly equal halves. A little over half of those surveyed, a significant 54%, indicated that gig income is their main job or main source of income (Figure 1)*.

*Note: This figure may be as high as 64% if we combine responses saying that gig income is a source of income while looking for other work.

Figure 1: Role of gig income/gig work

A little less than half of those surveyed, 45%, indicated that gig income is a supplementary source of income. Of these, 23% reported that gig income is extra income on top of their primary job or part-time jobs, 10% said that it is additional income for spending, another 10% said that it is a source of income while looking for other work while 2% said that it is a source of income while studying (Figure 1).

Nevertheless, be it primary or supplementary income, a whopping 75% of survey respondents indicated that gig income is an ‘important’ (24%) or an ‘extremely important’ (51%) source of income (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Importance of gig income

The importance of gig income cuts across the board (Figure 3), refuting the perception of gig work as casual work for pocket money.

Figure 3: Importance of gig income by the role of gig income

How much time do gig workers spend on gig work?

In terms of hours spent on gig work, three main categories emerged from the survey: 33% work less than 8 hours a day, 59% work between 8 to 12 hours a day and 8% claimed to work more than 12 hours a day (Figure 4). Hours resembling full-time employment appear to be the norm for the majority of gig workers surveyed.

Figure 4: Average number of hours spent on gig work a day

The number of days spent on gig work also resembles full-time employment. The vast majority of respondents, 86%, claimed to spend 5 days or more on gig work weekly: 30% work every day, 37% work 6 days a week and 19% work 5 days a week. Only 14% of respondents said they spent less than 5 days a week on gig work (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Average number of days spent on gig work a week

When we cross-tabulated these responses, i.e. number of hours worked per day with the number of days worked per week, we confirmed that a significant number of gig workers are effectively performing full-time working hours, if not more (shaded area, Figure 6). Of all gig workers that spend 5 days or more a week on gig work, more than two-thirds (73%) of them work 8 hours or more in a day (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Number of gig hours per day by number of gig days per week

Source: The Centre • n = 399. A small number of outlier responses were removed. Survey period: 15 October 2019 to 16 November 2019

The Employment Act 1955 60A states that “… an employee shall not be required under his contract of service to work…
1. More than 5 consecutive hours without a period of leisure of not less than 30 minutes duration;
2. More than 8 hours in a day;
3. In excess of a spread over a period of 10 hours in one day;
4. More than 48 hours in one week"

If the Employment Act 1955 definition for ‘full-time’ work (not more than 48 hours per week) and ‘part-time’ work (30-70% of full-time hours) are applied here, we can infer that 58% of respondents are effectively working ‘full-time’ and 19% working ‘part-time’. We classified the remaining 23% who work less than part-time hours week as ‘casual’ workers (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Proportion of effective full-time, part-time and casual gig workers (inferred based on Employment Act 1955)

How much are the incomes earned?

The majority of gig workers surveyed, 60%, declared a gross income of less than RM1,000 a week from gig work. 30% of respondents claimed to earn between RM1,000 – RM1,999 gross income a week, 7% claimed to earn between RM2,000 – RM2,999 gross income a week while 3% claimed to earn above RM3,000 gross income a week from gig work (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Weekly gross gig income

Each respondent was also asked to state their average weekly gig operating costs such as petrol, vehicle maintenance etc. As expected, operating costs varied according to the number of hours and days worked.

Each respondent’s net monthly gig income was calculated from the information provided. 74% of respondents were found to earn less than RM3,000 a month, comprising 27% that earn less than RM1,000, 25% that make between RM1,000 – RM1,999 and 22% that earn between RM2,000 – RM2,999 (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Calculated net monthly gig income

When checked against their employment intensity (as per Figure 7 above), we find that the majority of ‘full-time’ gig workers (64%) earn more than RM2,000 net gig income a month (Figure 10). Their median and average net monthly gig income come up to RM2,999 and RM2,300 respectively.

In keeping with the number of hours worked, most ‘part-time’ (64%) and most ‘casual’ (83%) gig workers earn less than RM2,000 net gig income a month (Figure 10). ‘Casual’ gig workers earn a median and an average net monthly gig income of RM1,000 and RM1,260 respectively, which is not far from the median and average net monthly gig income of ‘part-time’ gig workers at RM1,200 and RM1,597 respectively.

Figure 10: Calculated net monthly gig income group by type of gig worker

For some, a feasible steady occupation

The issue of graduates turning to gig work has surfaced from time to time, seen as an indication of worsening labour markets and job prospects. Based on our survey responses however, gig work appears to be a lifeline primarily for those without degrees. Only 16% of ‘full-time’ gig workers have a Bachelor’s degree or higher; the remaining 84% of ‘full-time’ gig workers do not possess a university degree (Figure 11).

A higher percentage of degree holders are amongst those who perform gig work on a ‘part-time’ or ‘casual’ basis – 23% and 47% respectively – underscoring the supplementary nature of the job for those with higher qualifications (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Type of gig worker by education level

Those who have been working effectively as ‘full-time’ gig workers have been doing so for quite a while – a large majority (86%) have been gigging for more than 6 months, with 64% gigging for more than a year. The majority of ‘part-time’ gig workers (83%) have also been gigging for more than 6 months (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Starting date as gig worker, by type of gig worker

The majority of gig workers, whether effectively ‘full-time’, ‘part-time’ or ‘casual’ intend to continue performing gig work for another year or more (Figure 13). From this response, we conclude that even with the enforcement of the PSV license for e-hailing drivers, gig work still appears to be a feasible income source, at least for those surveyed.

Figure 13: Intention to stay as a gig worker, by type of gig worker

Policy considerations

The thinking behind gig work and the gig economy have centred around the idea of casual, independent labour – people purportedly work when they want and on their own terms. The reality is not as straightforward. Economic pressures as well as practices within gig platforms have contributed to gig work becoming a major source of income for a significant proportion of gig workers. As a result, the notion of gig workers as casual or independent labour is being challenged today.

Our gig worker survey confirms this global theme, showing a situation of two nearly equal halves: based on hours worked, 50-60% of gig workers in Malaysia could effectively be ‘full-time’ gig workers while the remaining 40-50% are performing various levels of ‘part-time’ or ‘casual’ gig work for supplementary income. The median net monthly gig income for a ‘full-time’ gig worker is above the individual living wage for Kuala Lumpur, making gig work a feasible main income source for many, particularly those without higher education. This is borne out by over 80% of those surveyed, who see themselves continuing with gig work for the foreseeable future.

Since a significant proportion of gig workers are effectively behaving and contributing as full-time workers, what kind of social protection schemes should be in place and what should be the role of gig platforms as quasi-employers? How should worker legislation be revised to keep up with the changing realities of employment?

We propose some policy measures in Part 2 of our study, soon to be published, which focuses on gig workers’ participation in social protection schemes.

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