gig workers

Ontario establishes basic gig workers’ rights including $15 minimum wage

Ontario has announced “historic” new legislation that would see it become the first province to establish foundational employment standards for app-based gig workers, including extending to them the province’s general minimum wage of $15.

The Working for Workers Act 2022 intends to boost protections for digital platform workers who offer rides or deliver food and other items for companies such as Uber, Door Dash, and Instacart.

As well as giving such workers the new minimum wage, the proposed legislation would allow gig workers to keep their tips on top of that base pay.

Premier Doug Ford said on February 28 that as many as one in five Canadians now work in the gig economy. These workers often face uncertain working conditions and lack necessary protections including finding it difficult to predict paycheques or resolve complaints.

Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton said he expects other provinces will follow Ontario’s lead in creating foundational rights for such workers, who have taken on increased prominence and responsibility in the last two years of the pandemic, with so much foodservice business transitioning to off-premises.

“No gig worker should make less than minimum wage,” McNaughton said in an interview, per Global News. “No gig worker should be fired without notice or explanation.”

“We continue to hear stories that, you know, one week a gig worker will make $1,400 and the next week they’ll make $500, and they don’t know why,” he added, per CTV News. “So we’re going to bring forward a transparency, so workers know exactly how the algorithm works and how they’re going to be paid… these companies have a responsibility — and they’re going to be forced by law — to clearly tell workers on digital platforms how and when they’re going to be paid.”

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Proposed rights within the bill include the guarantee that workers will get written information detailing how platforms’ algorithms work, how their pay is calculated, how operators’ performance rating systems work, and how operators collect tips.

It would also establish a recurring pay period and a $15 minimum wage for active hours that is tied to the provincial minimum wage, while barring operators from withholding tips and prohibiting reprisal against workers for exercising their rights. However, the fact the legislation will only apply to active hours means that if a driver is not making a delivery or transporting a passenger, the minimum hourly wage will not apply.

The proposed legislation would also require operators to give workers notice of and reason for their dismissal from a platform if they are removed for more than 24 hours.

What the bill doesn’t do is address the employment status of app-based gig workers, who are largely classified as contractors and not employees. But the province says it will give them employment rights.

“These measures in this specific legislation provide a core set of rights for gig workers, but they aren’t an endpoint,” McNaughton added. “As our track record shows, we’re not slowing down on protections for workers. But certainly, the core rights that we’re bringing forward are going to lift wages for all gig workers and provide more protections for them.”

Establishing basic rights for gig workers was one of 21 recommendations put forward last year by a committee of experts tasked by the government with looking at labour market disruptions from the pandemic.

In its final report, the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee advised the province to establish basic rights for gig workers like minimum wage, benefits, pay stubs, regular wages, and notice of termination with severance pay.

Ontario raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour on January 1, 2022, choosing to also eliminate the liquor servers’ wage and pay those workers, who were previously making $12.55 per hour, the new minimum wage. Gig workers were not included in that legislation.

However, the ongoing effects of the pandemic, as well as light that has been shone on the often poor working conditions of delivery drivers, has prompted something of a reappraisal of how such workers should be treated.

Progress had already been made on the restaurant- and customer-facing side, with caps introduced on the commissions charged by third-party delivery services both inside and outside Ontario. Now, it is the workers’ time.

Also coming into effect this week is the province’s new law that requires businesses to provide washroom access to delivery people, as well as couriers and truck drivers.