Spark is set to launch an on-demand tradesperson service promising to connect tradies with homeowners for jobs but First Union is concerned it will drive down market rates.
WeDo, which launches next month, will operate through an app and is similar to other on-demand services on the market such as TRADEE and Builderscrack.
It will enable consumers to connect with workers for jobs such as painting, plumbing, electrical work, gardening, cleaning and moving services.
Spark said WeDo was designed to replace the need for tradespeople and small business owners to have an online presence.
"WeDo isn't about controlling or facilitating the work, but rather about providing a platform for small business owners to cultivate their customer base online, get paid quickly, plus have a fair shot at winning jobs," Spark head of WeDo Kayne Munro said.
"For Spark, this is an exciting next step as a digital services company – helping all of New Zealand win big in a digital world."
First Union secretary of transport, logistics and manufacturing, Jared Abbott, said these types of on-demand services often drove down pay rates of contractors.
"These apps like to be portrayed as a new generational type of work and we often hear terms like the 'Uberisation' or the gig economy, what they are in reality, is just contracting out work that would otherwise be covered by employment, and that's no different to other contracting except you have a platform that is digital," Abbott said.
"Where we've seen the Uber-isation of jobs we've seen wages reduce and that might be good for the consumer but overall it's not good for the economy when it's driving wages down in general."
Abbott said the gig economy often led to users having their pay drop when using digital platforms. Threats of strikes from New Zealand Uber drivers have previously cast light on the issue of poor pay in this market. And there has also been international criticism of services such as Fiverr, which offer to connect users with freelancers in the creative industries.
Abbott also questioned whether the service was necessary, given that tradies have little difficulty finding work.
"There's not a call from tradies saying they can't link up with people to do work... There's plenty of work available for tradies to do," he said.
"Our biggest concern is this is being seen by Spark as an opportunity to profit off the fact that they can undercut work that is already being done."
Master Painters New Zealand Association president Arjen Bloem offered a different perspective, saying he believed these apps were good as they provided tradespeople with regular work.
"People who use those apps are obviously doing other jobs together so it gives consistency of work which they may otherwise struggle to get," Bloem said.
"Sub-contracting is very prevalent in the industry and it often takes the form of an organisation sub-contracting an individual but letting them go when it is short of work.
"In some ways, it is used to circumvent the employment act."
Most tradespeople in New Zealand are employed on a semi-casual basis or have their own business with regular clients they work with, Bloem said.
It was very unusual for tradies to be on wages, he said.
E tū construction industry co-ordinator Ron Angel agreed, saying these types of apps were beneficial for tradespeople.
"For builders, painters, roofers, plumbers who get onto those apps, it's a way of advertising now as opposed to in the past it would have been an ad in the Yellow Pages or the back of the newspaper or the local shop window," Angel said.
"It's just a new way of getting work."
Feedback from E tū members using the apps had been good, Angel said.