British Columbia’s ride-hail and food-delivery gig workers will be entitled to basic employment protections, as well as a higher-than-standard minimum wage for time they spend on assignments, under new rules outlined by the provincial government on Thursday.
The number of workers who provide these app-based driving services, through platforms such as Uber UBER-N and SkipTheDishes, has surged since the start of the pandemic, B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains told a news conference.
“The laws that we have today were designed to deal with traditional workers, and they never contemplated that a worker will be employed by different employers at the same time,” he said.
“Our goal is to balance the needs of workers while supporting the continuation of the services that so many of us are accustomed to rely on.”
Under the new regulations, which are expected to be in place early in 2024, online platform workers will be guaranteed hourly wages while on assignments, but not during waiting periods between assignments. They will be compensated for work-related transportation costs, and will be eligible for benefits in the event of workplace injuries. Employers will also be required to provide workers with clear information about how much customers have paid, and will not be able to withhold tips. Workers will be entitled to an appeal process if they are dismissed.
Gig drivers are typically paid by the trip, meaning their hourly earnings are unstable. They are considered independent contractors, and don’t have the same rights as full employees. Currently, the only Canadian province with legislation specifically for gig workers is Ontario. The Digital Platform Workers’ Rights Act, passed in 2022, promises minimum workplace rights, including the provincial minimum wage, but it is not yet in force.
Inder Raj Gill, a driver who has delivered thousands of food orders, packages and passengers around Metro Vancouver over the past two-and-a-half years, said the gig economy might be worth it for workers like him “if we were not tragically underpaid, underappreciated, and exhaustively overworked.”
Speaking at the news conference, he welcomed the proposed changes. “In our world, an organization’s responsibility toward workers does not exist, but we believe that is about to change,” he said. “This is the first step, and it’s a crucial one, recognizing us as hard-working individuals who contribute to making people’s lives better. We look forward to receiving pay which reflects our hard work.”
Joy Nahirnick retired as a full-time bus driver, and now drives her Tesla for online platforms as a part-time gig. In an interview, she welcomed the changes, but said she doesn’t want the sector to become overregulated. She noted that she is able to set her own hours. “Adding more benefits and more transparency, those are all really good things. But the important thing is that we don’t lose our flexibility,” she said. “We want to be the boss.”
The B.C. government estimates there are currently about 11,000 ride-hail drivers and 27,000 food-delivery workers in the province. The proposed new regulations, which will need to be enabled through legislation, would set the minimum earnings at 120 per cent of the general minimum wage, which is currently $16.75 per hour.
The rate in this sector is being set higher than the basic minimum wage because gig workers are not paid between assignments. Under the new rules, their minimum wage will be calculated from the time they accept an assignment through its completion.
The BC Federation of Labour said the changes announced Thursday are a partial victory for workers. “But we are deeply concerned over where this plan falls short – especially because it denies workers key protections under the law, like paid sick leave,” federation president Sussanne Skidmore said in a statement.
Keerthana Rang, a spokesperson for Uber in Canada, said the company is encouraged by the proposed changes outlined on Thursday, although it wants to review the regulations when those are tabled.
“Uber is supportive of government policies that protect the flexibility and independence of app-based workers, while offering benefits and protections tailored to the work they do,” she said.