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Ontario to legislate minimum wage for gig workers
Feb. 28, 2022
Jeff Gray

The Ontario government is set to announce plans to force companies in the so-called “gig economy,” such as ride-sharing giant Uber, to provide workers with a $15-an-hour minimum wage and disclose more about how the apps they use operate.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton will unveil the changes in proposed legislation on Monday, he said in an interview, calling the new rules a first in Canada and a “foundational” set of rights for gig workers that face low wages and uphill battles in any challenge to the massive tech companies that run the gig economy.

“It’s unacceptable that these injustices are happening in Ontario, and we’re stopping them,” Mr. McNaughton said. “My message to companies is simple: If you want to do business here, you need to play by our rules.”

Mr. McNaughton had said earlier this month that he believed gig workers deserve minimum wage, and he has previously pledged to make a series of moves to help those who work for app-based companies and who are generally not covered by Ontario’s existing legal protections for conventional employees.

According to a brief summary of the bill provided to The Globe and Mail, the new protections would entitle what the proposed legislation calls “digital platform workers” to the province’s $15-an-hour minimum wage but only for “active” time, not for periods that workers spend waiting for apps to dispatch them.

The new rules would prohibit companies from withholding tips from employees. And they would require them to provide workers with written information about how these app-based services calculate their pay, offer them work, collect tips and rate their performance. Any disputes between workers and the multinational tech giants that operate these apps would have to be settled in Ontario, not another jurisdiction, as has often been the case.

Under the proposed rules, app-based companies would also have to provide a “recurring pay period” with a formal pay day. And they would have to provide any employee being kicked off an app with notice and a reason for their removal.

Other changes were already in the works. Earlier this month, Mr. McNaughton struck a committee to design a “portable benefits” program for gig workers and other workers who lack health insurance coverage or have multiple employers. It could be funded by a combination of the companies, the workers themselves and the government, and would accommodate those who work for multiple services.

The government’s push to find ways to guarantee gig workers better pay and benefits has prompted resistance from some in the industry. But lately, Uber -- the largest of these gig-economy U.S.-based tech giants -- has made a series of its own moves.

In January, it signed a deal with the Canadian arm of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, allowing the union to represent Uber drivers.
And in a proposal sent to Ontario and other provincial governments earlier this month, Uber called for rules that would mean an $18-an-hour minimum wage -- higher than Mr. McNaughton is proposing -- for “active time” for its gig workers in Ontario, along with a legislated portable benefits package. The higher rate is meant to compensate drivers for downtime and the costs of gas and insurance. Uber’s proposal also calls for other rights, such as termination pay and the right to join a union.

Mr. McNaughton dismissed Uber’s proposals, saying the company could have already acted on its own to improve wages and benefits for its workers.

“As far I am concerned, there is nothing preventing any private business from providing their workers with higher pay, benefits or other protections,” he said. “They can do that today.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government has made a series of other changes in recent months aimed at helping lower-wage workers. It’s a theme it is expected to repeat often during the coming election campaign before voters head to the polls June 2.

But critics say the approach is a recent conversion, noting the months of delay before the government legislated three pandemic paid sick days for workers last year -- having eliminated two paid sick days when they came into office. And while Mr. Ford, with union leaders at his side, announced in January that he was boosting minimum wage to $15, his government had scrapped an increase when it took power in 2018.

Other changes already announced by Mr. McNaughton include a pledge to require companies to disclose their electronic surveillance of employees, such as using GPS to track delivery drivers. He has also banned non-compete clauses in employment contracts and required businesses to let delivery drivers use their washrooms.

Monday’s proposals aimed at gig workers do not include a move, recommended by a government-appointed expert panel last year, that Ontario formally recognize gig workers as “dependent contractors” and guarantee them a limited set of the rights afforded to full employees. Some advocates for gig workers dismiss the idea as creating “second-class” status for workers. The NDP has proposed requiring employers to prove their gig workers are not in fact full employees, entitled to things such as severance pay.

Mr. McNaughton said his bill is “not an end point” for his government’s plans to help gig workers.