A provincial engagement intended to inform possible new gig economy employment standards shows that ride-hail and food-delivery workers in B.C. are dealing with poor, unpredictable pay and safety risks.
B.C. ran roundtable discussions in communities throughout the province and conducted a survey with close to 1,500 respondents between November and January, and heard numerous concerns from workers, academics and the public.
Gig work is often viewed as a side hustle that people use to top up their pay, but the survey shows 39 per cent of respondents rely on driving or delivering food as their only source of income. Another 15 per cent said it is their primary income source.
For those people especially, low pay, a lack of benefits and sick leave, and the absence of worker protections are real concerns. Workers said they highly value the flexibility of the gigs in terms of choosing their own hours, being able to work across multiple different platforms, and having the option to decline certain trips or deliveries, but that it comes at a cost.
“We heard from many workers that once their tips and expenses are deducted, less than minimum wage is being earned for the hours they work,” the report reads.
The rising cost of gas and vehicle expenses were cited by many respondents, who said the apps are designed to pressure them into accepting trips even if they could lose money by taking it.
Workers also noted they aren’t paid for the time they spend waiting for a new assignment to come in, that companies sometimes take a portion of the tips customers provide, that they often don’t know what they’ll be paid until after they’ve accepted an assignment, and that they aren’t compensated for late passengers or slow restaurants.
Some respondents – particularly those who deliver by bike – expressed concern around their safety, noting that they sometimes end up in neighbourhoods they would rather not be in because some apps withhold delivery destinations until an assignment has been taken.
Workers also noted they have no recourse for unfair termination or suspension, no workers’ compensation if they’re injured on the job and no support for dealing with racism and disrespect.
Members of the public who were surveyed were sympathetic to these issues, with the majority saying gig workers should be able to refuse unsafe work, should have the right to fair process if fired, and should have sick leave and wage protection.
Of about 400 people surveyed, 34 per cent said they would be willing to pay more for ride-hail and delivery services if they knew that workers were being treated better.
The province also engaged with the companies behind the apps to get their opinions. According to the report, the majority emphasized the importance of flexibility for workers and said that is incompatible with full-time employment, but agreed there is room for improvement. Some suggested pooled, self-directed benefit plans for workers, mandatory occupational accident insurance and implementing minimum standards across the industry.
B.C. says it plans to take the feedback from the engagement to inform possible changes to worker protections and standards in the gig economy. It hasn’t set a timeline on improvements.