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Ontario committee suggests creating third class of employment for gig workers

Ontario Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton Photo: montemcnaughtonmpp.ca

On December 9th, the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC) released its report on the future of work, with recommendations that a “gig workers” category be created. These workers would not have full employee rights but will be offered a different package of benefits and less protection.

“I don’t think Ontarians realize how bad this will be for everyone,” says long-time Uber driver and activist Earla Phillips. “Instead of having employers move toward offering equal protections to everyone, Ontario workers can expect to see their employers now trying to ‘gig-ify’ their jobs. This is bad news for everyone.”

Phillips, who attended two online consultation sessions of the OWRAC, noted that “not a single gig worker sat on the OWRAC committee.” Ontario reports in its press release that from June to September, the Committee met with 150 workers, union leaders, advocacy groups, and employers

“The future of work is already here. If we want to be leaders, we need to quickly adapt,” said Minister McNaughton. “We’re not going back to where we were before the pandemic. Taking these steps now rebalances the scales and puts Ontario workers and their families first for generations to come.”

Uber Canada has not replied to a request for comment. Earlier in 2021, the Toronto Star reported that former Uber lobbyist Nick Kouvalis had been hired as an advisor to Premier Doug Ford.

Recommendations 15 and 16 of the report are as follows:

“Recommendation 15: Create and recognize the dependent contractor category for gig or platform workers in the app-based space and give this category of worker basic employment rights, such as termination pay, minimum wage, minimum or core benefits, regular payment of wages, pay stubs for pay accountability and notice of termination with severance entitlements.

“Recommendation 16: Require gig platform companies operating in Ontario to provide basic, easy-to-understand, full disclosure and transparency on payment, work allocation and penalties, suspensions or pay deductions.”

“This is what Uber and app-based companies wanted,” says Jennifer Scott, President, Gig Workers United. “They lobbied for the creation of a third category of worker and for portable benefits. If the Committee and the Ontario government cared about workers in a just recovery, they wouldn’t kneel to app-based employers lobbying for legislative change to enshrine worker precarity into law.”

“A gig worker is a worker, full stop,” adds Scott. “App-based delivery is an essential part of our community. International and provincial courts and governments have already ruled that gig work is real work, that we must be protected against misclassification and have the same rights and protections as all other workers. There are class action lawsuits and Employment Standards Act violations already underway. Uber knows it will lose in court, but if the Ontario government accepts these recommendations, Uber wins.”

The Committee’s report recommends that app employers provide “portable benefits”, or in other words, stipends from the company to workers to contribute to the cost of health insurance. “Uber could give us these benefits right now, under existing labour laws, but they’re unwavering in their commitment to avoid having their workers classified as employees,” adds Scott.

“Is it fair that we have to trade full and equal rights for bare bones benefits? We will be permanently excluded from statutory benefits like maternity leave, injury protections, and pensions so we can go to the eye doctor once a year?” says Scott. “Workers know how to tell when something is a bad deal; we’re smarter than this and it’s offensive to be presented with carve outs and window dressing as if that is good enough or what we deserve.”