Employment recovery panel will take a hard look at the gig economy

By Alan S. Hale June 18, 2021

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton announced the creation of a new Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee on Thursday, which will be tasked with proposing reforms to Ontario’s labour and employment rules to better suit the post-pandemic world.

This will include delving into the thorny issue of regulating the gig economy.

“The way we work has been changing, and the pandemic has accelerated those changes,” wrote McNaughton in an op-ed for the National Post.

“Where we work, how we work and the meaning we find in what we do all need to adapt to changes in our society and technology. Old models and thinking on both sides of the ideological divide no longer quite fit.”

Seven experts have been chosen for the panel, which will look at how to foster economic recovery, strengthen Ontario’s competitive position and support workers whose jobs rely on technology platforms — i.e. gig economy workers.

Reforming the gig economy has proven tricky for other jurisdictions because the companies involved often fight tooth and nail against changes to their business models. For instance, California passed sweeping legislation giving increased protections to gig economy workers in 2019, only to see those protections overturned by a ballot initiative put forward by companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash.

But panel member Vasiliki Bednar, executive director of McMaster University’s Master of Public Policy in Digital Society program, believes the province is ready to explore changes to an industry that has benefited from a lack of labour regulations. California’s law, she said, is something the panel can draw inspiration from.

“It really started to think about how to set standards or guardrails around algorithmically mediated work,” she told Queen’s Park Today in an interview. “Increasingly, there are workers whose boss is an algorithm, and these algorithms push workers in particular ways, with the classic example being Amazon. So what role is there for policymakers to set boundaries around that?”

Bednar said the goal of the panel is not to be “anti-big tech,” and she would love to speak with representatives from those companies during the consultation phase.

“Low-wage service and retail work have been really revolutionized by technology, sometimes in ways that are problematic and other times in ways that the legislative environment doesn’t conceive of, so workers aren’t properly protected,” said Bednar, who is also a former Ontario Liberal Party staffer.

The committee is expected to begin consultations on its report in July, with an initial draft ready by mid-August.

It will also study job training efforts for high-growth industries and ensure Ontario’s labour policies jive with “the rise of knowledge and technology sectors in a world where work is increasingly global and remote,” per the labour minister.