Dec 13, 2023

New protections for BC platform workers entrench racism

By and uber eats delivery person of colour on their bike looking down on their phone

In November 2023, the BC Ministry of Labour announced new employment standards that claim to “bring fairness” to the estimated 40,000 ride-hail and food-delivery workers in BC. The move comes after a year of public engagement with platform workers, platform companies and labour experts, which brought to the fore the precarious working conditions of platform workers who face low and unpredictable earnings and lack even the most basic workplace rights like minimum wage and workers’ compensation.

It is good to see the BC government finally deliver on its election promise to extend much-needed protections to this growing and particularly vulnerable group of largely racialized workers. BC is only the second Canadian jurisdiction to do so after Ontario introduced a limited set of rights for ride-hailing and food-delivery workers in April 2022.

Unfortunately, it looks like the provincial government is planning to extend only a limited subset of BC’s workplace protections to platform workers.

While this is better than nothing, it is hardly fair. Worse, it entrenches a growing group of predominantly racialized people as second-class workers with fewer rights, perpetuating racist economic hierarchies and leaving these workers vulnerable to further exploitation. Adding insult to injury, the proposed new legislation lets platform companies continue to offload the normal costs and risks of doing business onto workers, consumers and taxpayers.

So far, the BC government has only passed a preliminary bill that enables further regulation to be developed for the emerging platform-based service economy (Bill 48). The exact protections that platform workers will receive will be defined in regulations that are in the works though the BC government has committed to some key parameters.

The good

BC’s Bill 48 establishes platform workers (“a person who performs prescribed work that the person accepts through an online platform”) as employees and platform companies (“the operator of the online platform through which an online platform worker accepts prescribed work”) as employers under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Workers Compensation Act (WCA). This is a significant improvement over Ontario’s limited Bill 88 and a step forward in ensuring equitable treatment of platform workers in BC. The broad definition of platform work also promises to cover workers in industries that may choose to adopt this on-demand service-delivery model in the future.

This preliminary bill enables further regulation to be developed for the growing platform economy, which the government has indicated will include protections for workers such as pay and destination transparency, tip protections, protections from unfair suspensions and terminations and notice of termination or pay in lieu. Platform companies will have to contribute to WorkSafeBC and adhere to Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.

The bad

However, the BC government has said it does not intend to extend to these workers the full set of basic protections given to other employees in BC under the ESA and says platform companies will not be held to the same standards as all other employers in BC.

For example, platform workers will not be entitled to paid sick leave, overtime pay, statutory holidays or vacation pay. The proposed regulations also do not give platform workers eligibility for federal Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

The evidence is clear: where limited protections have been applied, such as in Ontario and California, platform workers continue to face exploitation.

The exclusion of platform workers from receiving the five days of job-protected paid sick leave is particularly egregious in the wake of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The BC government promised every worker in the province access to paid sick days so nobody would be forced to make the impossible choice between working while sick or losing their livelihood.

Platform companies will continue to be exempted from contributing to payroll programs such as EI and CPP at a major cost to the public purse. This is unfair to businesses that shoulder standard employment costs and responsibilities and could lead to the platform business model spreading to more industries, undermining workers’ livelihoods and burdening public income security programs.

Further, BC’s new regulations for platform work won’t require platform companies to be transparent with workers about the controls they apply through their proprietary algorithms for the distribution and compensation of assignments. This falls behind Ontario’s Bill 88 which established platform workers’ right to information about what factors are used to determine the compensation for each assignment and what assignments a worker is offered. This lack of transparency leaves workers open to potential discrimination and unjust treatment.

It is also disappointing to see that BC’s proposed legislation does not explicitly confirm platform workers’ rights to unionize, opening the door to multinational platform corporations to potentially challenge workers’ attempts to unionize in court.

Needs improvement

The BC government is promising platform workers a guaranteed minimum wage rate of 120% of the provincial minimum wage but only for “engaged time,” which is defined as the time between when a worker accepts an assignment through its completion. This compensation rate is exactly what Uber proposed back in 2022.

While this is a step above Ontario’s provisions to extend the provincial minimum wage to platform workers for time “on assignment” (which is not defined in the legislation), BC’s platform workers will continue to be without a guaranteed minimum wage for all time worked.

Studies have shown that time actively completing assignments only accounts for between 30% to 60% of platform workers’ total working time. The 20% premium on the minimum wage the BC government is offering is simply not enough to compensate for the significant amount of time workers spend on the platform waiting for a work assignment or returning from assignments to areas where jobs might be available and time refueling and cleaning one’s vehicle during a shift —essential time for platform companies to provide customers with prompt service.

Allowing platform companies to have their workers stand by waiting for assignments without pay means it’s in the companies’ best interest to flood the apps with available workers to reduce response times and boost customer satisfaction. For platform workers, this means more unpaid time spent at-the-ready and a lower real hourly wage. This generates road congestion and air pollution for everyone else.

Further, the “engaged time” model means that platform workers will not be guaranteed access to workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in between assignments (e.g., when returning to a central hub like an airport or a downtown area with lots of restaurants where new assignments might come from). WorkSafeBC coverage for all work time is important because this group of people work on BC’s roadways and in public spaces (for those who use bikes/scooters to do their delivery) where they are especially exposed to the risk of accidents causing injury.

The BC government has signaled its intention to require platform companies to compensate ride-hail drivers for vehicle-related expenses, which significantly undercut real earnings for workers. However, it seems like an entirely new—potentially lengthy—consultation process will be undertaken before that happens. In the meantime, platform workers will continue to pay out of pocket for these expenses.

We urge the BC government to fully compensate workers for all business expenses, not only vehicle-related costs. These include wear and tear allowance rates for bicycles, e-bikes and scooters, mobile data costs, commercial vehicle insurance costs, bicycle/scooter/e-bike theft insurance costs and any incidental expenses required in the course of providing service, including airport fees or road tolls, parking costs, cleaning and repair costs and safety equipment such as cameras, visibility vests, gloves and helmets.

The bottom line

The good:

✔️Platform workers defined as ‘employees’ under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Workers Compensation Act (WCA)

✔️Platform companies defined as ‘employers’ under ESA & WCA

✔️Platform companies must contribute to WorkSafeBC

✔️Platform companies must follow Occupational Health and Safety regulations

✔️Inclusive definition of platform work in ESA and WCA protects more workers

✔️Tip protections

✔️Pay transparency

✔️Destination transparency

✔️Protections from unfair suspensions and terminations

✔️Notice of termination or pay in lieu


The bad:

✖️No paid sick days

✖️No vacation pay

✖️No stat holidays

✖️No overtime pay

✖️No access to Employment Insurance (EI) or the Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

✖️Platform companies don’t have to contribute to EI or CPP or pay the Employer Health Tax

✖️No confirmation of platform workers’ right to unionize

✖️No transparency on algorithmic controls


Needs improvement:

➖New wage floor of 120% minimum wage only applies to “engaged time,” meaning workers are not guaranteed at least the minimum wage for total work time

➖No guaranteed access to workers’ compensation for injuries in between assignments

➖Platform companies can flood supply of labour at workers’ expense

➖Compensation for vehicle-related expenses delayed

➖No compensation for non-vehicle related work expenses

Labour Minister Harry Bains has said the government’s role is to ensure that, “if you’re working in the province of British Columbia, regardless of the sector you work in, regardless of your immigration status, you’re entitled to minimum basic standards that workers in this province expect to enjoy.”

We agree. Access to basic workplace rights and protections enshrined under the ESA and the WCA is particularly important for vulnerable workers such as new immigrants, low-wage and racialized workers—who are less able to secure workplace conditions better than the minimum requirements set out by law.

Yet the BC government is denying platform workers access to the full range of minimum basic rights enshrined in the ESA. This is deeply unfair.

The evidence is clear: where limited protections have been applied, such as in Ontario and California, platform workers continue to face exploitation. As we stressed in our submission to the public consultation, placing the largely racialized group of platform workers in a second-class tier of workers with fewer rights and protections perpetuates racist economic hierarchies and goes against the BC government’s broader efforts to address systemic racism.

Moreover, the BC government’s proposed employment standards for platform workers let platform companies continue to offload many of the normal costs and risks of doing business onto workers, consumers, and taxpayers.

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