Inquiry needed into gig work in BC
The BC government recently decided to permit the operation ride-hailing services, which are scheduled to begin before the end of the year.
Other services, like the delivery of restaurant meals, use similar systems to dispatch workers. Yet the provincial government has yet to address a crucial element of this system—the rights and protections of workers in the ‘gig’ or on-demand economy.
Companies using the “gig” system usually maintain that their workers are independent contractors, not employees. Contractors are not covered by employment legislation, health and safety regulations and employment insurance. Nor do they have legal protections should they choose to form unions. Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that this classification of workers gives these companies substantial advantages over firms with employees.
In a landmark case now before the Supreme Court of Canada, Uber is challenging a 2018 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal that would allow a class action suit to proceed on behalf of more than 20,000 Uber drivers. The drivers claim they are employees, not independent contractors and therefore entitled to the rights and protections of the provincial Employment Standards Act. The Ontario court decision found that Uber’s contract clause requiring all drivers’ dispute arbitrations to take place in the Netherlands may have amounted to illegally outsourcing an employment standard.
Companies using the “gig” system usually maintain that their workers are independent contractors, not employees.
A recent survey of Metro Vancouver residents by Research Co. revealed that 75 per cent of respondents think BC should require ride-hailing drivers and taxi drivers to be paid a minimum wage as well as employment standards benefits such as overtime and vacation pay.
And, examples have arisen around the world showing uncertainty about gig economy companies.
Concerned about the pervasive failure of such companies to provide workers with the rights of employees, the California State Legislature has classified them as employees thereby ensuring that gig economy workers are not improperly classified as independent contractors. The State estimated it was losing $8 billion from payroll taxes annually because of the misclassification of gig workers. Ride sharing companies have mounted a major campaign to roll back the legislation.
In 2018, the government of the Australian state of Victoria established an inquiry into the on-demand workforce to draft or consider new government labour regulations. The inquiry has yet to produce a final report.
Although much has been written about the characteristics of modern technology/digital platform-based work, the scope and scale of gig work in Canada has not been studied from the the workers’ perspective. The number of workers is growing and the Bank of Canada has estimated that over 700,000 Canadians work in the informal economy, including gig arrangements.
The scope and scale of gig work in Canada has not been studied from the the workers’ perspective.
In addition to on-demand and gig economy work on digital platforms, other employment relationships exist where an intermediate employer or agent provides labour services to a final customer such as temporary help agencies.
In order to address the growing erosion of coverage of gig and other on-demand workers from employment standards, workplace safety and compensation, employment insurance, Canada Pension Plan and other labour and social legislation that benefit employees, the BC government should establish a public inquiry to recommend public policies and regulations for gig and on-demand work that reflect the realities of emerging work forms and provide adequate protections for these workers.
This article first appeared in the Vancouver Sun.
Topics: Employment & labour