Ontario government backs ‘gig economy’ reform

Written by Karma Roughneen, CNN Getting workers paid the minimum wage would be relatively easy. But legislating benefits and working hours in Canada — especially for gig workers — is complicated. In Ontario, the…

Ontario government backs 'gig economy' reform

Written by Karma Roughneen, CNN

Getting workers paid the minimum wage would be relatively easy. But legislating benefits and working hours in Canada — especially for gig workers — is complicated.

In Ontario, the country’s most populous province, that has led to a struggle for employer and worker. A Ministry of Labor committee released its report on Friday, recommending that Ontario governments develop standards that give gig workers more protections than they currently enjoy.

Workers should be protected from a form of self-employment that’s hard to understand, Wouter Sauers, a lawmaker and one of the report’s drafters, said in a phone interview.

“It can be a hard thing to get a good idea of how to put in place a program that is rigorous in terms of what labor protections people are entitled to,” he said.

Gig workers who make money outside traditional job markets are under pressure to define themselves more clearly.

“We don’t want to encourage whole industries to fall into the ‘gig economy,’ which is characterized by substandard living conditions and an important lack of security,” the report reads.

Ontario’s proposal is based on the example of Uber. Under a future gig economy standard, the ridesharing company could be required to provide workers with their first four weeks of guaranteed pay, but would also have to cover costs of equipment and driver health insurance, for example.

Some other changes to the gig economy model are said to come from the Ontario law — albeit with a bit of a twist.

The committee recommends that Canada remove a federal law that prevents provinces from setting their own overtime and protections for couriers, analysts say. In the U.S., similar steps are being taken by major cities like San Francisco.

Ontario’s restrictions on employees and independent contractors — part of a federal law from 1975 that protects between 80% and 90% of private-sector businesses — should also be minimized, the report reads.

Ontario’s bureaucrats reportedly studied how over 400 companies defined themselves as “independent contractors,” and found that 95% of these companies are misunderstood and lack adequate labor standards, including rest periods, sick days and group holiday leave.

One in four workers in Ontario are freelancers, according to the report. That number is expected to increase to one in three in the next decade, making gig work a huge source of employment.

Some of the most progressive proposals in the report would raise salaries for caregivers, retirees, caregivers themselves and certain research assistants.

Workers could be expected to sign contracts in these sectors requiring health and safety standards, the report’s recommendations state.

Legislators would also set minimum requirements for wages and hours, as well as the number of jobs certain firms are required to offer.

Part of the committee’s goal was to address some of the disadvantages working people face in a so-called gig economy, but other policy makers are also looking into the issue.

Two of the biggest waves of innovation are no longer solely the technical side of technology but the economic side, said Wesley Moore, chair of the committee. “I don’t want to promote self-driving cars. I don’t want to promote self-driving boats.”

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