Around 200,000 Irish workers are working in temporary or other non-permanent employment arrangements, according to new research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute.
The research commissioned by the Workplace Relations Commission also reveals that workers in temporary employment earn on average 21% less than their permanent counterparts doing similar work.
ESRI Research Professor Seamus McGuinness told a WRC seminar that just under a tenth of the workforce fall into the category of "contingent" employment, but said while that figure had risen somewhat during the recession, it has fallen back - and is not expected to grow beyond 10% up to 2025.
He said that contingent employment in Ireland is largely focused on temporary employment and freelancers.
He said that when the gig economy is discussed, it usually focuses on large high profile companies like Deliveroo and Uber, but said that such firms represent a very small proportion of the overall labour market.
He noted that his research did not detect any significant difference in job satisfaction between people on temporary and permanent contracts, despite the fact that many are earning substantial wage penalties.
He said this suggested that some were prepared to trade off lower wages against the opportunity to acquire experience.
He said that if there were widespread exploitation, in addition to a pay penalty, he would have expected to see higher levels of job dissatisfaction among temporary workers, but that had not emerged in his data.
Professor Michael Doherty of Maynooth University said the main legal problem was that there are only two definitions of work status; employer – including self-employed - or employee.
If a worker is categorised as self-employed, he or she will not have access to employment protections on things like unfair dismissal, sick pay and paid holidays, and lose out on social security entitlements.
However, he acknowledged that self-employed workers can be their own boss, and have the chance to make a lot of money - though he cautioned that that only happens if they are genuinely self-employed.
Deliveroo's Regional Manager for Ireland Liam Cox defended the company's employment model of self-employed delivery staff.
He said Deliveroo currently has 900 people who are well paid working as drivers, but receives a further 400 applications per week for such work.
He said 80% of their riders want flexibility, and that because they are self-employed they can work with other companies and platforms.
He said 40% were students working around study commitments, while just 10% said Deliveroo was their sole source of income.