Uber Technologies Inc. is asking provincial governments across Canada for regulatory changes that would force the tech giant and other app-based companies to offer gig workers benefits and safety protections.
The San Francisco-based company said Wednesday it wants the provinces to require app-based gig employers to accrue benefits funds for workers and provide safety tools and training without having to take away the flexibility of their work by declaring them traditional employees. The request comes just weeks after the U.K. Supreme Court ruled Uber drivers in that country should be classed as workers and not self-employed, paving the way for benefits such as paid holidays and minimum wage.
Uber’s proposal is a significant shift from its long-time independent contractor model, where drivers and couriers pick up riders or orders as they please but aren’t offered health insurance, vacation time or many other perks associated with traditional employment.
“Our view is our current employment system is outdated, unfair and somewhat inflexible and some workers get benefits and protections and others don’t,” says Andrew MacDonald, Uber’s senior vice-president of global rides and platform. “We feel that COVID has exposed some of those fundamental flaws and think this is a good opportunity for change.”
MacDonald and Uber are calling their pitch Flexible Work+ and marketing it as a step up from the independent contractor model that gives perks to drivers and couriers, but doesn’t take away their power to choose when, where and how often they pick up riders or meals. The company hopes to use the model to address frequent complaints from drivers and couriers who want the benefits provided by traditional employers and more transparency around their earnings.
Both requests have become even more important during the coronavirus pandemic as gig workers saw their earnings fluctuate. UberEats couriers in Toronto, for example, told The Canadian Press in February they were concerned about the company’s treatment of workers after pay changes resulted in some of their earnings dropping from $10 to $3.99 per trip before tips during the last year.
If provincial governments back Uber’s proposal, the company would offer drivers and couriers in the country access to funds that they can spend on prescriptions, dental, or vision care and potentially even registered retirement savings plans or tuition.
Uber envisions drivers and couriers getting to decide how to use the money, which could be allocated based on hours worked. The company is also hoping provincial changes would allow it to give drivers and couriers equipment like safety vests or phone mounts without creating the perception that it’s a traditional employer.
It would also commit to offer more transparency around pay, find more ways to engage with drivers and delivery people and invest more in those finding work through the app — all features it doesn’t require government assistance for.
Uber is pursuing the Flexible Work+ model rather than existing ones because an October survey of 670 Canadian drivers and couriers showed 85 per cent couldn’t continue driving or delivering if flexible work wasn’t offered. When the company asked about specific models, it found 29 per cent strongly preferred and 30 per cent somewhat preferred to be an independent contractor. About 15 per cent strongly preferred and 20 per cent somewhat preferred the traditional employee model.
Using feedback, the company started devising Flexible Work+ and asked drivers and couriers about it. While 65 per cent of them favoured it, 16 per cent liked the current independent contractor model and 18 per cent wanted to be classified as employees with benefits.