Union gives zero-star rating to committee’s gig worker designation advice

By Alan S. Hale December 10, 2021

The union representing workers in the gig economy roundly rejected a list of recommendations from the PC’s Workforce Rehabilitation Advisory Committee on how to protect those workers on Thursday.

“What we are seeing is that the Ford government is doing exactly what Uber wants them to do,” fumed Gig Workers United president Jennifer Scott during an interview with Queen’s Park Today.

The task force proposes Ontario legislate a new “dependent contractor” classification for app-based gig workers, who would be guaranteed at least minimum wage and given proper pay stubs, holiday pay, a “portable benefits program,” severance and unemployment protection. That would include “drivers, couriers, home cleaners, home health care aides, fitness coaches and others who use apps and online platforms to find work.”

But the recommendations, said Scott, are an attempt by companies like Uber to pre-empt any legal action by gig workers seeking full rights as employees. Several workers, she noted, have already filed such claims under the Employment Standards Act.

“Uber and other app companies know that if they have to go to court with gig workers, they will lose and we will win,” she said. “This is about preventing us from winning.”

Several jurisdictions around the world have passed laws declaring that workers for ride-sharing and food-delivery apps are not independent contractors, as app companies have classified them, but rather full employees who are due the rights and benefits that come with that. But tech firms have fought back vigorously against such rules.

The European Commission proposed rules to that effect earlier this month and, at Queen’s Park, NDP MPP Peggy Sattler’s private member’s Bill 28, Preventing Worker Misclassification Act, would have made similar changes — but was defeated when the PCs voted it down at second reading last month.  

Workforce Rehabilitation Advisory Committee member and labour lawyer Kathryn Marshall said she was “particularly excited about” the dependent contractor designation, touting it as an important step forward for gig workers. She also argued the idea of a dependent contractor is in keeping with Ontario law, “which has long recognized” that some people fall in between being a full employee and an independent contractor.

“Right now these workers have zero employment rights and that’s wrong. And our recommendation is that it’s long past time to recognize these workers as being dependent contractors and being entitled to employment rights,” explained Marshall, before adding, “while also recognizing that these are workers who have a high degree of flexibility and are not in a traditional employee-employer relationship.”

But gig workers should not have to sacrifice their demand for full rights as employees in order to get basic things like minimum wage and “bare bones” benefits, Scott said.

“Is it appropriate that gig workers be permanently excluded from statutory benefits like maternal leave or injury protection and being able to choose to see an eye doctor or a dentist once a year?” she questioned.

In a statement to Queen’s Park Today, Uber Canada said it hopes to work together with the province and gig workers to “help drivers and delivery people receive new benefits and protections — while still keeping the flexibility they value.”

Uber’s homescreen.

No decision yet from PCs on recommendations

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton did not commit to enacting the dependent contractor designation, nor any of the other task force’s recommendations not already included in Bill 27, Working for Workers Act, such as the right to disconnect and ending non-compete agreements.

However, he said he is “not going to dismiss any of the 21 recommendations today.”

The government’s goal, said McNaughton, is “to ensure that more families are financially independent,” and that the province will not return gig workers to the circumstances they had pre-pandemic.

“My message to those big companies, Ubers of the world, Skip the Dishes, DoorDash and others: If you’re not looking after your workers, then we’re going to make you look after your workers,” said McNaughton. “The future of work is here. There are already thousands of workers in the gig economy and, going forward, there’s going to be thousands and thousands of more people working in the gig economy.”

If the government enacts the dependent contract designation, it will be a “lowering of the bar for every worker in Ontario,” per Scott.

“I think it’s very frightening for workers,” she said. “I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, but the gig economy is coming for your job security and your work, and we need to rally around this.”