Labour law experts say the B.C. government has to do a better job of protecting gig workers who work for platform companies.
Iglika Ivanova, senior economist with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said many platforms gain their competitive edge not through higher productivity or efficiency, but by exploiting loopholes to avoid the responsibilities and expenses of traditional employers.
“Gig workers are often misclassified as self-employed contractors, thereby being denied basic statutory protections and benefits,” she said.
Ivanova is among 60 experts in the fields of labour law, policy, and economics, who have penned an open letter calling on the NDP government to uphold an election promise to protect gig workers, whose presence has expanded from ride-sharing into other industries.
David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, said B.C. has a unique opportunity to set high standards for sustainable, responsible platform work.
“This government has shown a commitment to robust labour standards,” Green said. “There is a real need to extend those protections to gig workers in a consistent way.”
The open letter makes several demands. The include: the establishment of a clear test to determine whether platform workers are independent businesses or employees; full minimum wage coverage, labour safety and employment standards for workers the test confirms are not independent businesses; full legal responsibility for the platforms protecting worker health and safety; fair application of all provincial payroll-based programs to platform businesses and workers; and confirming the full rights of platform workers to organize unions, negotiate collectively, and take collective action.
“For many platform workers, gig work is not a side job and many of those workers are new immigrants and people of colour,” Pamela Charron, interim executive director of the Worker Solidarity Network, said. “They deserve to have access to the benefits and protections afforded to other workers in our province.”
Without these measures, the norms of the gig economy would spill into more industries, experts warn. Potential effects include threatened livelihoods; higher public health care and income security burdens; and a competitive disadvantage for businesses that shoulder standard employment costs and responsibilities.
The open letter appears shortly after Uber expanded operations in the provincial capital of Victoria, as well as Kelowna, one of Canada’s fastest growing regions. Both communities share a growing technology sector, one of the primary users of platform-based business models.
Pointing to various complexities, the provincial labour ministry said it has been working with platform companies, workers and others on appropriate protections for app-based ride-hail and food-delivery workers since the fall of 2022.
A summary of that engagement so far appeared in April 2023. It found that workers value flexibility while struggling with lack of protections. Other concerns include low, unpredictable pay, transparency on trip locations and safety.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said earlier this spring that his government is looking into the larger issue of workers in the app-based industries following the release of the engagement report, but did not publicly commit to legislation in the fall.
“We are looking at ways — how do we protect these workers, their health and safety, and number two, if they are injured and become ill at workplaces, what kind of protection (and) support is available to them,” Bains said.
He said more information will come forward in the future. He also signalled that government won’t shy away from taking on companies like Uber.
“Regardless of who the employer is, our emphasis is always on the workers.”