Canada’s federations of labour unite to condemn Ontario's OWRAC gig worker recommendations
In a display of unity that shows the threat posed to workers by the gig economy and gig economy giants like Uber that seek to redefine provincial labour laws in their favour, labour federations from across the country have issued a joint statement condemning the recommendations of the report of the Ontario’s Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC).
As we reported on The Left Chapter, on December 9 in a major victory for European workers that will hopefully have global implications, a European Union directive "includes a presumption that gig workers will be treated as employees."
In Ontario, however, Uber launched a campaign called "Flexible+" which the company hoped would lead to a legal framework for app and gig workers akin to what was accomplished in California with the victory of Proposition 22.
As Jim Stanford noted in the Toronto Star, " six months ago, the Ontario government appointed a Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC) to review the province’s labour laws; strangely, it included no worker or union representatives. After a hurried “consultation,” it has now issued 21 recommendations."
Those recommendations have been unanimously rejected by the Canadian Labour Congress and Canada’s provincial and territorial federations of labour who say they will "enshrine second-class status for gig workers."
The statement reads, in part:
Globally, app-based workers are standing up, overturning misclassification as independent contractors, and coming together to improve their working conditions. Courts and legislatures in France, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Australia, and numerous other countries are recognizing the presumption of employment status for food delivery workers and other app-company gig workers. The new European Union Commission directive, establishing the presumption of employee status unless the company can prove the platform worker is an independent contractor, shows us that around the world, the tide is turning towards full employment rights for app-based workers. The OWRAC report recommendations are offside and out of step with this global trend.
We repeat our call from March 2021 for governments to give app-based gig workers the same legal protections as other workers, and to end employee misclassification. The CLC and Canada’s central labour bodies urge all governments to apply employment standards universally and eliminate exceptions and special categories that restrict worker rights. We urge governments to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors and reverse the legal onus so employers must prove a worker is not an employee and is truly an independent contractor.
The OWRAC report has recommended the opposite. In line with the wishes of the digital platform companies like Uber, Lyft and Skip the Dishes, OWRAC recommends the government of Ontario create a new category of dependent contractor under employment standards legislation which would give gig workers fewer rights and entitlements than employees. Workers classified as dependent contractors would continue to have reduced or restricted access to the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, and workers’ compensation that are the bedrock of decent work. Instead, OWRAC recommends the government establish a ‘portable benefits’ scheme which will unquestionably provide inferior benefits for these workers.
The Canadian labour movement remains firmly united with the growing global movement demanding full rights and protections for gig economy workers. We reject the platform companies’ efforts to pressure governments to invent a niche category for app-based employment. Like Proposition 22 in California, Uber and other platform companies are hoping the Ford government will enshrine insecurity and inferior work conditions into Ontario’s legislation while undermining the right of workers to organize.
Gig work is vitally important work but commonly underpaid and undervalued. Grocery store workers, delivery drivers, bike couriers and many others play a critical role in keeping our economy moving and ensuring that we have essential supplies. This work matters, and these workers matter.
Governments have a responsibility to make work better – to provide workers with security, safety and fair pay. We reiterate our call on the provincial, territorial and federal governments to protect gig and app based workers by:
Applying employment standards universally and eliminating exceptions and special categories that restrict worker rights;
Proactively addressing the misclassification of workers as independent contractors and reversing the legal onus so employers must prove a worker is not an employee and is truly an independent contractor; and
Ensuring all workers have the right to organize into a union should they choose and making that right meaningful by addressing barriers to organizing.
The statement was endorsed by:
Canadian Labour Congress
Alberta Federation of Labour
British Columbia Federation of Labour
Manitoba Federation of Labour
New Brunswick Federation of Labour
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour
Northern Territories Federation of Labour
Nova Scotia Federation of Labour
Ontario Federation of Labour
Prince Edward Island Federation of Labour
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour
Yukon Federation of Labour