Would you rather decide your own working hours, be your own manager and decide which projects to pursue? More than 8% of Canadians workers do. Such unconventional jobs have increasingly gained popularity over the past decade owing to a surge in advancements in digital communication and their incorporation into businesses across the globe. This has given rise to what is called the “gig” economy.

As opposed to being employed full-time, gigs provide flexibility to the worker in terms of time spent on each assignment, working under multiple employers and switching jobs readily to name a few. But as they say, “for everything you win, there is something lost.”; Working in the gig economy has its disadvantages. From not receiving health insurance, being subjected to questionable wages, not having paid sick leave and all in all, facing strenuous working conditions, the state of the gig economy begs the question — is this an exploitation of innovation?

Companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart rely heavily, if not entirely, on gig workers who have been at the forefront of our response to the pandemic while still being taking advantage of, like in 2019 when it was discovered that some companies were using tips to make up their base pay. While most of these companies categorize their gig workers as “independent contractors”; this categorization is largely ambiguous and vastly generalizes the nature of work involved in different type of gigs. While freelance artists, Uber drivers and delivery agents are one of the first people that come to mind when one thinks of the gig economy, there is a substantial population of gig workers that work behind the scenes, such as domestic help and caregivers that are typically dominated by women and individuals belonging to racially marginalized communities. It is important to highlight the varied experiences of these workers instead of putting them under one loosely defined label.

In March 2021, a year into the pandemic, the Canadian federal government requested a consultation asking gig workers about their experiences in an attempt to better understand their motivations and challenges, and potentially formulate better labor regulations. This consultation reaffirmed important issues pertaining to working in the gig economy from low employment security to lack of payment transparency. The Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee also advised the provincial government to create a new designation for gig workers by categorizing them as “dependent contractors” which would provide basic employment rights to the workers while maintaining a distinction between salaried employees and contractors.

Employers of gig workers argue that the flexibility of working on a contract basis is a huge part of the appeal that these jobs offer. Reclassifying gig workers as employees would take this appeal away. While the workers themselves do not seem to deny that the flexibility of gig work is desirable, the price they must pay is their health and security. Additionally, the employers also remark that such a reclassification would require funds that would punch a hole in the consumers’ pockets. This argument coming from some of these gig giants sounds like they are not willing to take a cut on their hefty profit margins in the name of labor rights. On the contrary, would such a reclassification suffice, or would it turn counter-productive, creating legal loopholes that would sabotage the rights of existing full-time workers? These questions remain debatable.

The innovation of the gig economy has made aspects of our lives more convenient than ever before, but it has also revealed grey areas in our labor laws that enable businesses to exploit workers under the guise of freedom and flexibility, impacting the everyday lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.


References:

  1. https://hbr.org/2018/03/thriving-in-the-gig-economy

2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2019/11/20/are-gig-economy-workers-being-exploited/?sh=3680561a729c

3. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/septembe-2021/how-should-canada-design-policies-to-protect-gig-workers/

4. https://theweek.com/articles/977530/fake-innovation-gig-companies

5. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2021/03/government-of-canada-launches-consultations-to-ensure-labour-protections-meet-new-realities-of-working-canadians.html 6.https://ca.news.yahoo.com/the-gig-economy-opportunity-or-exploitation-194706864.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALp0bHtegfg5gtphc9ZN

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Manjula Kamath

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