In a changing economy, we need to be vigilant about how workers’ rights are impacted and eroded when “disruptive” technologies enter the labour market. The ever-evolving tech industry has brought in sweeping changes to how regular people live, work, and play in a very short time.
Apps and online platforms provide a dynamic solution to the demand for things like vehicles for hire, short-term rentals, deliveries, and more. However, these “disruptors” change more than our behavior; they have created an on-demand or “just in time” workforce that operates outside of existing workplace regulations.
This is known as the gig economy: work that is procured through a labour market mediated by a digital platform. The gig economy operates in legal grey zones. Workers have limited social and labour protections, and in fact, their classification as workers or employees is often in dispute. Yet the size of the gig economy is growing in scope and in scale, all over the world.
It is difficult to get an accurate number of how many Canadians are employed through gig jobs. Creators of these platforms would like us to think that users are primarily individuals who are supplementing their income, but increasingly, people are using them as a primary source of income. Are these not workers? Are these platforms, which profit from this work, not employers under the law?
- Gig workers are often dispersed and lacking a central, brick-and-mortar location where they can be identified and organized
- When gig workers are classified as independent contractors, they are not subject to the Employment Standards Act and their organizations cannot be union certified
- Disruptive technologies present new challenges to lawmakers who may be hesitant to restrict innovation/business, or who are uncertain about how to move forward with no precedents
- Fight the misclassification of workers through legal channels
- Organize gig workers
- Advocate for legal and regulatory reform municipally and provincially
UBER Drivers United – United Food and Commercial Workers
UFCW launched their GTA-wide UBER organizing campaign in June 2019, beginning with UBER Black and airport drivers. With an estimated 90,000 private transportation drivers in Toronto and ongoing regulatory battles in jurisdictions across the country, this is an important opportunity to empower workers and make a positive impact. The principal demands are:
Foodsters United – Canadian Union of Postal Workers
CUPW launched a campaign to organize Foodora couriers in May 2019. Couriers work from personal vehicles or bikes and, since the company classifies them as “independent contractors,” they are solely responsible for the wear and tear on their vehicles and on their bodies. They work in all weather conditions and have no access to bathrooms or indoor break spaces. They are fighting for:
Fairbnb is a Canada-wide initiative to raise consciousness about the ethical and practical challenges of the short-term rental economy, and to challenge legislators to do more. So-called “home sharing” platforms like Airbnb have put a squeeze on the already-strained long-term rental market in major cities everywhere. The company itself profits enormously and, because it is internet-based, is not subject to fair taxation. The practice of renting private residences has created “ghost hotels” that are operating outside of zoning and hospitality legislation. The coalition includes labour groups alongside industry, property owners and renters, and other concerned citizens. The campaign launched in 2016 to fight for fair regulation. It has successfully advocated for regulatory change in a number of jurisdictions including Toronto, but the fight is far from over.
- Statement: Fix Labour Laws and Employment Standards (March 2015)
- Good Jobs For All coalition (visit website)
- The Changing Workplace Review Final Report (access PDF)
- CONDITIONS OF WORK AND EMPLOYMENT SERIES No. 94 "Organizing on-demand:
Representation, voice, and collective bargaining in the gig economy," by Hannah Johnston and Chris Land-Kazlauskas (retrieve here)