By Laura Lam and Kam Phung, orignially published in Policy Options on September 27, 2021
The struggle for decent working conditions within gig work – and particularly low-wage, precarious gig work – is very much alive.
The federal government published a consultation request in March 2021, asking gig workers to share their thoughts and experiences. In a nutshell, the ministry is seeking input to update federal labour regulations to reflect the realities of the eight per cent of the Canadian population doing gig work at the time of the 2016 census. We are also seeing provincial governments lead consultations to shape the future of work, although these lack crucial worker representation. These consultations are taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic; while gig-worker labour is deemed “essential,” gig workers have been treated as if they are entirely disposable – personally bearing the brunt of health and safety risks.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have also seen murmurs of a paradigm shift. We are seeing the movement for worker rights gain momentum – quietly and steadily. Forms of collective action have emerged in the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States – to name a few – that have sought to shine a light on the difficult realities of gig workers, who are caught in a regulatory quagmire between being a self-employed sole proprietor and being an employee. Workers, courts and governments are growing more attuned to the often-exploitative nature of precarious gig work. New policies are being introduced by gig companies themselves.
So, how can these policies from around the world inform Canada’s own work in designing policies that will protect and improve conditions for gig workers, specifically those employed through digital labour platforms like Uber and the like?