Uber Canada’s new proposal for provinces to force the tech giant and other mobile application-based companies to offer gig workers some benefits is facing pushback from advocacy groups and employment lawyers, with some saying the plan will still leave gig workers paid less than minimum wage and without job security.
The company unveiled its pitch, called Flexible Work+, on March 10, which asks provinces to require app-based gig employers to accrue self-directed benefit funds that can be dispersed to drivers for prescriptions, dental and vision care, as well as provide safety training and tools like reflective vests. Currently, Uber’s gig workers are classified as independent contractors so the organization isn’t required to give them benefits or a minimum wage as other employees would receive under provincial laws.
Gig Workers United, an advocacy group for delivery workers in Canada, has long been advocating for app-based companies like Uber to offer a living wage, sick pay and more stability to workers. But Uber has fought those requests, going as far as to spend millions last year to convince Californians to vote in favour of legislation allowing it to continue to classify couriers and drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees.
“They can lock us into an arrangement that is only for their benefit and that doesn’t benefit us at all,” says Brice Sopher, an UberEats worker in Toronto and representative for Gig Workers United. “[The proposal] doesn’t address any of the real issues that workers have been talking about.”
Sopher and Joshua Mandryk, a labour lawyer at Goldblatt Partners in Toronto, see the Canadian proposal as a continuation of California’s Proposition 22, which passed in November’s election despite union opposition. “Canadians should not be fooled,” says Mandryk. “Uber . . . appears to be carving their drivers out of basic employment standards protections like the minimum wage.”
Samara Belitzky, a lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, says if Uber workers were considered employees it would have to offer minimum wage, vacation pay and protected, parental and medical leave. Workers would be able to access compensation in the event of workplace injuries and would get unemployment benefits, she added.
“Uber realizes that the way they’re misclassifying drivers as contractors when they’re really employees is not necessarily working out, and so they are now spending the time to get the government involved to change the law so that they can kind of have their cake and eat it too,” says Belitzky, whose firm is currently pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Uber.
Andrew MacDonald, the company’s senior vice-president of global rides and platform, believes workers will like Uber’s idea to offer drivers and couriers in the country access to funds they can spend on prescriptions, dental or vision care and potentially even registered retirement savings plans or tuition.
To UberEats courier Spencer Thompson, the pitch is “a step in the right direction,” but he wishes it addressed wages. He claims pay changes Uber made last summer resulted in some courier’s earnings dropping to $3.99 from $10 per trip before tips. “A lot of the drivers, especially more in like the suburbs, would probably want some protections like minimum wage and other employee-type benefits,” he says, noting he’s debated quitting the app.
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.