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B.C. government urged to bolster protections for gig-economy workers

Amid the rapid surge of B.C.’s gig or “platform-based” economy, 61 leading experts in labour law, policy and economics are urgently calling on the provincial government to enforce stronger protections for gig workers. They also insist on mandating platform-based companies to fulfill the same labour and fiscal responsibilities as traditional employers.

The open letter, led by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – B.C. Office (CCPA-BC) and the Centre for Future Work, underscores the increasing necessity for the B.C. government to uphold its election promise to protect gig workers, often deprived of basic entitlements like minimum wage, workers’ compensation, CPP, EI and other benefits.

“Gig workers are often misclassified as self-employed contractors, thereby being denied basic statutory protections and benefits,” said Iglika Ivanova, senior economist with the CCPA-BC. “Many platforms derive their competitive edge from exploiting regulatory loopholes to avoid the normal responsibilities and expenses that other employers face, not from genuine productivity or efficiency improvements.”

Recent studies suggest that hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers participate in the gig economy, often grappling with challenging working conditions. 

While ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft popularized the gig business model, it is now widespread across industries like courier services, food and package delivery, tech services, teaching and tutoring, home repair and maintenance, and caring services for seniors, people with disabilities and children.

“Despite an often high-tech image, these businesses employ practices familiar from centuries of insecure work practices,” said Jim Stanford, economist and Director at the Centre for Future Work. “The business model allows platform firms to avoid normal employment expenses and responsibilities, shift costs and risks to workers and artificially reduce their labour costs. However, international precedents show it’s possible to integrate digital task assignment within a standard employment framework.”

As global digital platforms face rising pressure to reform their employment practices, this group of 60 BC experts highlights the need for key reforms which include:

  1. Establishing a clear test to evaluate whether platform workers are genuinely independent contractors or are, in effect, employees.
  2. Guaranteeing full coverage by minimum wage, notice for termination, WorkSafe and other normal employment standards where the test confirms that platform workers are not genuinely independent businesses.
  3. Ensuring any business entity engaging workers, including platforms, accepts full legal responsibility for protecting worker health and safety.
  4. Applying all provincial payroll-based programs (in particular, WorkSafe and the Employer Health Tax) equally and fairly to platform businesses and their workers.
  5. Confirming that platform workers have full rights to organize unions, negotiate collectively with their platforms and take collective action in support of their demands.

“Platform businesses must be held to the same standards as traditional employers,” says Pamela Charron, Interim Executive Director of the Worker Solidarity Network. “For many platform workers, gig work is not a side job and many of those workers are new immigrants and people of colour. They deserve to have access to the benefits and protections afforded to other workers in our province.”

Without swift policy interventions, experts warn of potential spill-over effects of the gig economy model into more industries. This could threaten workers’ livelihoods, burden public health and income security programs and undermine businesses that shoulder standard employment costs and responsibilities.

“The government has a unique opportunity to set high standards for sustainable, responsible platform work,” says Professor David Green of the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia. “This government has shown a commitment to robust labour standards. There is a real need to extend those protections to gig workers in a consistent way.”

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