Last year the B.C. government began the process of developing employment standards and other protections for app-based ride-hail and food-delivery workers. The Ministry of Labour conducted a public consultation on the topic in the fall of 2022, and published a What We Heard Report in April 2023. The Centre for Future Work made a submission to the public consultation.
Many labour policy experts are concerned that the current business model of platform firms relies on exploiting gaps in the current employment standards regulation and enforcement system. This business model allows them to avoid normal employment expenses and responsibilities, to shift costs and risks (including risks associated with fluctuations in business conditions) to workers, and thus to artificially reduce their labour costs. Without policies to limit and roll back these practices, the platform model will spread into more industries and occupations – risking the livelihoods and even the lives of platform workers, imposing undue costs on public health and income security programs, and undermining the viability of other businesses which accept the normal costs and responsibilities of being employers.
So the Centre for Future Work, in partnership with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has initiated an open letter on labour standards for platform workers, that has been signed by over 60 B.C. policy experts, labour lawyers, and economists. The letter urges the B.C. government to implement strong measures to ensure that ride-share and food delivery platforms fulfill the same labour and fiscal obligations as other employers, and outlines five core principles for regulating platform firms to provide improved security and protection to platform workers.
The open letter is published below, followed by the list of signatories.
Open Letter on Regulating Platform Work
The last decade has seen the rapid expansion of new business models in numerous industries, which engage workers to provide services through on-demand digital platforms. Details of these models vary, but typically they compensate workers on a per-task basis, offer no guarantee of continuing work, require them to provide tools and capital equipment, and classify them as ‘contractors’ not employees – thus denying them normal statutory protections such as minimum wage, workers’ compensation, CPP and EI benefits, or supplementary employment benefits (like pensions, health care, and insurance).
This business model first came to prominence in passenger transportation services (so-called ‘ride share’ firms like Uber or Lyft), but is spreading quickly into other types of business – including courier services, food and package delivery, technology services, design, teaching and tutoring, home repair and maintenance tasks, and human and caring services (such as aged care, home care, and child care). Studies indicate that hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers now participate, to varying degrees, in this form of employment.
Despite its high-tech image, the core employment practices of these businesses (including on-demand engagement, piece work compensation, contractor status, and a paid intermediary which matches workers with end-users) are familiar from centuries of previous contingent or insecure work practices (including labour hire, sham contracting, and gangmaster labour systems). This business model allows platform firms to avoid normal employment expenses and responsibilities, to shift costs and risks (including risks associated with fluctuations in business conditions) to workers, and thus to artificially reduce their labour costs. In fact, the cost advantages some platforms have over traditional service providers stems from exploiting gaps in the current employment standards regulation and enforcement – not from genuine advantages in productivity or efficiency.
Around the world, digital platforms are now being challenged to reform their employment practices and provide improved security and protection to platform workers. These challenges have been conducted through the courts, through collective bargaining, and through legislative change. The main goals of reform have been to:
- Ensure that platform workers have access to the same minimum protections and standards as other workers (including minimum wage, health and safety protections, workers’ compensation, and universal pension and insurance programs).
- Prevent platform businesses from shirking normal employment-related expenses (such as workers’ compensation, employer health taxes, and CPP and EI premiums). This practice both denies coverage for platform workers, and transfers the fiscal burden for those services to traditional employers and the broader public (through higher costs for health care and income security programs).
- Ensure fairer competition between digital platforms and other firms which retain traditional employment relationships (and associated normal employment responsibilities and standards).
Without policies to limit and roll back these practices, the platform model will spread into more industries and occupations – risking the livelihoods and even the lives of platform workers, imposing undue costs on public health and income security programs, and undermining the viability of other businesses which accept the normal costs and responsibilities of being employers. In short, the uncontrolled expansion of platform work is economically, fiscally, and socially unsustainable.
Platform businesses claim the application of normal employment standards would interfere with their ‘innovative’ business models. This is false: international experience proves that digital dispatching of fares or delivery tasks is entirely feasible within the context of a normal employment arrangement.
The platforms also claim their workers put more priority on the supposed ‘flexibility’ of on-demand work, than on normal protections (like minimum wage). This posits a false choice, and is based on a very misleading notion of ‘flexibility’. Again, many other businesses allow workers to opt-in and opt-out of work, while still guaranteeing minimum employment standards. This is technically and economically feasible for digital platforms, too, so long as they manage labour supply more actively (rather than keeping a permanent pool of drivers on unpaid stand-by). At any rate, the “flexibility” of app-based work is always constrained by consumer demand (compelling app-based workers to work during busy times) and by often-long waits between assigned jobs.
There is now ample experience in other jurisdictions with rules and policies which improve the lives of platform workers, while still permitting these businesses to function (albeit in revised ways).
The Government of British Columbia is considering options for regulating platform work in the province. This government has demonstrated a positive commitment to strong labour standards in many areas of policy. It is important that this commitment be applied consistently to platform work, as well. Since ride-share and delivery platforms are the largest and highest-profile segments of the broader platform economy, these new regulations must focus first and foremost on ensuring that these businesses fulfil the same labour and fiscal obligations as other employers.
Core principles which should guide the B.C. government’s approach to regulating ride-share and delivery platforms include:
- A clear test should be established to evaluate whether workers on a platform are genuinely independent businesses or contractors in their own right, or are in effect employees (based on factors including the extent of platform control over the worker’s assigned tasks, compensation, equipment, and service standards, and the diversity of the worker’s customer base).
- Where this test confirms that platform workers are not genuinely independent businesses in their own right, full coverage by minimum wage, notice for termination, WorkSafe, and other normal employment standards must be guaranteed and enforced.
- Any business entity that engages workers (including platforms) must accept full legal responsibility and liability for protecting the health and safety of workers engaged in its service.
- All provincial payroll-based programs (in particular, WorkSafe and the Employer Health Tax) must apply equally and fairly to platform businesses and their workers.
- The government should confirm that platform workers have full rights to organize unions (utilizing B.C.’s single-step certification procedure), negotiate collectively with their platforms, and take collective action (including strike action) in support of their demands.
Digital platforms can offer valuable services to consumers, and decent work for those providing those services. But the current practices of these firms, shirking normal employment obligations and standards, imposes unacceptable costs and risks on platform workers, other businesses, and the broader public.
B.C. has a unique opportunity to set a high standard in sustainable, responsible platform work. We urge the provincial government to do so.
Signatories (listed in alphabetical order, affiliations for identification purposes only):
- Marina Adshade, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia
- Janet Andrews, Secretary-Treasurer, New Westminster & District Labour Council
- Cenen Bagon, Steering Committee Member, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights
- Donna Baines, Professor, School of Social Work, University of British Columbia
- Joel Bakan, Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
- Joe Barrett, Retired Researcher, BC Building Trades Council
- Lou Black, Director of Research, Hospital Employees’ Union
- Enda Brophy, Associate Professor, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
- Chris Buchanan, Partner, Hastings Labour Law Office
- Rowan Burdge, Provincial Director, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
- Jessica Burke, Partner, Black Gropper Labour & Employment Lawyers
- John Calvert, Adjunct Professor, Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University
- Maxwell Cameron, Professor, University of British Columbia
- Duncan Cameron, President Emeritus, Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives
- Lea Caragata, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of British Columbia
- Warren Caragata, Consultant,
- Pamela Charron, Interim Executive Director, Worker Solidarity Network
- David Chudnovsky, Retired teacher, trade unionist
- William Clements, Lawyer, Koskie Glavin Gordon
- Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University
- Patricia Deol, Partner, Koskie Glavin Gordon
- Viveca Ellis, Executive Director, Centre for Family Equity
- David Fairey, Labour Relations Research Consultant, Labour Consulting Services
- Anastasia French, Provincial Manager, Living Wage for Families BC
- E. Murphy Fries, Lawyer, Koskie Glavin Gordon
- Sylvia Fuller, Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia
- Trish Garner, Director, Policy and Strategic Initiatives, BC Federation of Labour
- Merv Gilbert, Director, Vancouver Psych Safety Consulting Inc.
- Anthony Glavin, Partner, Koskie Glavin Gordon, Lawyers
- David Green, Professor, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia
- Alex Hemingway, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
- Heather Holdsworth, Organizer, Public Service Alliance of Canada
- Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
- Mohsen Javdani, Associate Professor of Economics, School of Public Policy, SFU
- Simon Kelly, Director, Learning, Research and Occupational Health and Safety, B.C. General E6ployees’ Union (BCGEU)
- Maureen Kihika, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Labour Studies, Simon Fraser University
- Marc Lee, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office
- Christina Lee, Manager of Operations and Special Projects, Hua foundation
- Andrew Longhurst, Health policy researcher, political economist and PhD candidate, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University
- Fiona MacPhail, Professor of Economics, University of Northern British Columbia
- Raji Mangat, Executive Director, West Coast LEAF
- Chloe Martin-Cabanne, President, CUPE 2950
- Gavin McGarrigle, Western Regional Director, Unifor
- Leo McGrady KC, Legal Counsel, Koskie Glavin Gordon
- Denise Moffatt, Director of Government Relations and Political Action, BC Federation of Labour
- Nicole Molinari, Research and Policy Analyst, Hospital Employees’ Union
- Gerardo Otero, Professor of International Studies, Simon Fraser University
- Simon Pek, Associate Professor, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria
- Stuart Poyntz, Professor, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
- Blair Redlin, Public policy researcher
- Patrick Rodrigues, Research, Public Policy, and Bargaining, United Steelworkers
- Supriya Routh, Associal Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
- Sara Slinn, Associate Professor, Osgoode School of Law, York University
- Tim Stainton, Professor, School of Social Work, University of British Columbia
- Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work
- Kendra Strauss, Professor and Director of The Labour Studies Program, Simon Fraser University
- Don Sugden, Member of the Worker Solidarity Network and the BC Employment Standards Coalition
- Mark Thompson, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
- Stephen Von Sychowski, President, Vancouver & District Labour Council
- Cathy Walker, Adjunct Professor, Labour Studies Program, Simon Fraser University
- Anelyse Weiler, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Victoria