CHAUDHRI: Federal government weighs in on gig worker rights

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If you’ve ordered dinner or groceries lately, you’ve likely benefited from the work of a gig worker.

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Gig workers oil the wheels of our economy, often seamlessly removing pain points and adding convenience to our lives in many innovative ways. And the federal government is now weighing in on the rights of federal gig workers in a new report released this March on developing greater labour protections for gig workers.

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The report compiles data collected over various consultations in 2021 and 2022 and identified the benefits of gig work as well as the pitfalls. It doesn’t, however, commit to any specific changes to the Canadian Labour Code to introduce any new protections for this class of worker.

The labour minister is a little late to the party.

According to the report, in 2020, 10% of Canadian workers were gig workers. The benefits of gig work is obvious — plenty of freedom and flexibility; but the downside is obvious too. Gig workers don’t have stable pay, no or low benefits, can often find it difficult to chase down payment for work done, and don’t have an obvious legal forum to have disputes resolved.

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For gig work to flourish in Canada, there must be clear and distinct advantages to businesses to turn to gig work. If the “rights” of gig workers become too expensive or inflexible, businesses will turn away from embracing this growing industry. As more and more work is turning to hybrid and remote models, it’s only natural that some of this work will transition from traditional employment models to the gig work universe.

The thrill of being a gig worker brings with it the intoxicating feeling of freedom and being your own boss. But the ugly underbelly of the gig world is the risk of not getting paid on time. The fact that this right remains unregulated for federal workers is quickly becoming untenable. Gig work can’t succeed without it.

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Instead of the federal government championing “employment” rights for gig workers, it should allow gig workers to negotiate freely, to dictate their own terms, just like all small businesses. The sole focus of government intervention should be on building a legal forum for gig workers to enforce payment from delinquent companies and imposing swift consequences for bad actors.

The true beauty of gig work is allowing workers to find flexibility and freedom in the way they work. Finding innovative ways to support entrepreneurial workers must be the focus of the federal government, and soon.


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