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Feds to create EI-like benefit for gig workers

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The federal government plans to move as many out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system when a key emergency benefit runs out in the fall, and provide an EI-like support for millions who can’t qualify under existing rules.

The change signals a potentially sweeping overhaul to the decades-old social safety net criticized in recent years for not keeping up with a modern labour force marked by increasing contract and gig work.

It was partly because of those holes that the government created the $80-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit at the start of the pandemic, which is set to wind down over the coming weeks.

Those who already qualify for EI will be moved to that program.

The government is promising a parallel, transitional benefit with EI-like components for those who can’t yet — “and I emphasize yet,” said Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough — get into the EI system. It will include access to training and the ability to work more hours without having as steep a clawback in benefit payments.

The government is also promising to relax EI eligibility rules like the number of hours required to receive support payments.

Speaking Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the goal is to move everyone receiving CERB to employment insurance, and cover anyone looking for work “with a better, 21st-century EI system.”

Details will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

The government’s most recent CERB figures show $62.75 billion in benefits to 8.46 million people. About half of those recipients have gone to EI-eligible workers.

Those eye-popping numbers were the reason the EI system was shelved in favour of the CERB in March, as federal officials worried the volume of claims would overwhelm the decades-old system.

The government is still expecting millions to be on EI come the fall — about four million, Qualtrough said, adding that the system has been tested and was ready to handle the deluge upon its restart.

The federal government plans to move as many out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system when a key emergency benefit runs out in the fall, and provide an EI-like support for millions who can’t qualify under existing rules.

“We believe that the CERB has served its purpose and the reason it was created is no longer the main focus of our efforts as a government to support workers,” Qualtrough said during a mid-afternoon press conference.

“We are going to move on to something different.”

The Liberals are hoping the change prods more Canadians to either go back to work or look for a job as the economy moves into what the Bank of Canada has described as a recuperation period before a long, bumpy recovery.

The recuperation appears to have started in May when the economy grew by 4.5 per cent, Statistics Canada reported Friday, re-emerging from severe lockdowns in March and April. That figure beat expectations, and a further sign of optimism was a preliminary estimate of five per cent growth in June, which will be finalized next month.

The national data agency said rebounds in May were seen across multiple industries, including retail trade registered that saw its largest monthly increase since comparable readings began in 1961.

“May’s GDP numbers demonstrate that our economy is rebounding from all-time lows, but the growth numbers we’re seeing simply represent businesses reopening after needed lockdowns,” said Trevin Stratton, chief economist at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Despite the two months of growth after two months of negative readings, Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimate is that economic output contracted by 12 per cent in the second quarter compared to the first three months of 2020, which would be a historic drop.

Statistics Canada said economic activity still remained 15 per cent below pre-pandemic level despite the gains over May.

Recouping the remaining percentage points will take months, if not longer. Much will rest on how many companies may yet close, how many jobs disappear with them.

“It’s a question of uncertainty at this point and how much damage the shutdowns have done,” said Benjamin Reitzes, BMO’s director of Canadian rates and macro strategist.

“We don’t really have that much information at this point, but if you consider the number of small businesses that are under significant pressure, maybe not surviving this period and the scarring broadly on the economy from things like that … it’s going to take time to recover from that.”

The federal government also announced Friday that it is extending a commercial rent-relief program through August as a lifeline to many small businesses whose revenues, while slowly returning, still lag behind their fixed costs.

So far the program has helped about 63,000 small business tenants through forgivable federal loans totalling $613 million. It is well below what the government hoped when it rolled out the aid.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the announcement is good news for those who can access the program, but called it a “slap in the face” for those whose landlords refuse to apply.

The organization called on the federal government to allow tenants to apply directly for help.

“Rent relief needs an overhaul now,” said Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

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Workers

Gig workers need fair deal in our ‘convenience’ economy

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COMMENT | In a simpler age, there was only one number to remember for food deliveries. Helpfully, there was a jingle that was repeated often on the few radio stations that operated back then. There were fewer digits in the telephone number itself which made it fit better in a melodic hook that was only a few seconds long (though I can’t recall hearing a Malay version of tujuh-lima-lima…).

You had the option of ordering various pizzas, garlic bread, or simple pasta dishes, which were a huge treat back then, what more the novelty of having it delivered directly to your front gate.

Of course, today food deliveries are common. Some are still operated by the restaurants, but usually, they are available through popular food delivery apps, which are the bedrock of the convenience economy.

Consumers are now able to get access to food, goods, and services whenever, wherever, and however they like, made possible by hundreds of thousands of people zigging and zagging their way across cities.

Like many things, the pandemic and multiple lockdowns have sped up the widespread adoption of delivery services by businesses and customers, but it was already a growing trend before that.

It made sense. Why spend time travelling, parking, and all that hassle waiting for food elsewhere, when you can just make a few taps and continue being in the comfort of your own home? There are also a huge number of promotions and deals giving you discounts on your orders, while earning you points for more deals in the future. It’s not a difficult choice to make, and this was pre-Covid-19.

Once the virus was in the picture, staying home was not only the…

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How to decide if a gig economy worker is an employee or self-employed? Guidance from UK Supreme Court’s decision in landmark Uber case

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Introduction

In recent years, the advance in technology and shifting economic conditions have contributed to the emergence and rise of “gig economy”. Gig economy refers to on-demand, peer or platform economy. It often involves a business model where individuals take up on-demand jobs or gig works through digital platforms such as a smartphone application or website. Popular examples of such applications in Hong Kong include Uber and Deliveroo.

While gig workers are often viewed as “self-employed persons” or “independent contractors” in many jurisdictions and are unable to enjoy protections under labour law, a recent UK Supreme Court decision classified Uber drivers as “workers” and ruled that they are entitled to minimum wage, paid leave and other legal protection. Although the services provided by Uber has been ruled illegal in Hong Kong, the case sheds light on the classifications of gig workers in general.

UK Supreme Court ruling

In Uber BV and Others (Appellants) v Aslam and others (Respondents) [2021] UKSC 5, the UK Supreme Court explored the employment status of private hire vehicle drivers who provide their services through the Uber application. The UK employment law distinguishes three categories of persons who enjoy varying degrees of labour protection, including: 

  1. those employed under a contract of employment (which is akin to the concept of “employees” under Hong Kong employment law); 
  2. those self-employed people who are in business on their own account and undertake work for their clients (which is similar to the concept of “independent contractors” under Hong Kong employment law); and 
  3. those “workers” in an intermediate class who are self-employed but provide their services as part of a profession or business undertaking carried on by someone else, who tend to have some characteristics of both of the above categories (but there is no such intermediate category of “workers” under Hong Kong employment law). 

The Supreme Court’s findings 

The Supreme Court considered the purpose of the relevant statutory provisions, which is to offer protection to those people who are in a subordinate and dependent position in relation to the employer and are vulnerable to exploitation.

In determining the status of Uber drivers, the Supreme Court took into account a number of facts found by the labour tribunal which point towards to the relative degree of control exercised by Uber over their drivers. These findings of facts include (1) Uber being able to fix the remuneration paid to drivers, (2) the contractual terms on which drivers perform their services are dictated by Uber, (3) once drivers logged onto the Uber application, their choice of accepting requests for rides is restricted by Uber, (4) Uber exerts significant control over how drivers deliver their services by various methods including vetting the types of cars, suggesting routes and using rating systems for managing performance and terminating relationship with drivers, as well as (5) restricting communication between passengers and drivers to prevent drivers from establishing any relationship beyond am individual ride. 

On the basis of the labour tribunal’s findings of facts, the Supreme Court ruled that Uber exerted tight control on the drivers and the services provided. The drivers were in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that the drivers had little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice, the only way the drivers can increase their earnings was by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance. The Supreme Court found that the drivers were rightly found as “workers” under UK employment law.

Classification in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, an individual may perform work as an “employee” or an “independent contractor”. As per the Court of Final Appeal’s decision in the leading case of Poon Chau Nam v Yim Siu Cheung [2007] 1 HKLRD 951, the modern approach to the question of whether one person was another’s employee is to examine all the features of their relationship against the background of the indicia developed in the case law with a view to deciding whether, as a matter of overall impression, the relationship was one of employment. The following indicia of employment, albeit not exhaustive, will be likely be considered by the court to decide whether there is an employer-employee between the parties:

  • the degree of control exercised by the employer; 
  • who provided the equipment for performing the services; 
  • whether the individual may hire additional helpers for performing the services;  
  • the degree of financial risk taken by the parties; 
  • the degree of responsibility for investment and management of the parties; and 
  • whether and how far the individual had an opportunity of profiting from sound management in the performance of his or her tasks. 

Although the classifications adopted by the English and Hong Kong Courts are not identical, and it seems that in Hong Kong there is a higher threshold for individuals to be entitled to protections under its employment law as “employees”, the case still sheds light on the possibility that the Hong Kong Court may reach an overall impression that gig workers such as Uber drivers are not independent contractors given the significant degree of control that the business has over the gig workers, which is an important factor that Hong Kong Courts would consider when determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists

At the same time, there have been calls on the Hong Kong Government to address the emergence and rise of gig economy and review the existing labour legislation to enhance protection of labour rights of gig workers. However, the Hong Kong Government has stated that it has no plan to expand the scope of the current employment legislation to cover selfemployed persons

Takeaways

For companies which adopt business models involving the provision of services by gig workers, it is imperative to consider the classification of such gig workers from an early stage and seek professional advice on the issue if needed. Whether an individual is classified as an “employee” or an “independent contractor” will have significant impact in terms of the statutory benefits enjoyed by the individual and the statutory duties and obligations imposed on employers, which may in turn affect the financial planning, risk management and business viability of the companies. 

 

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Egypt aims to register millions of gig workers for COVID-19 aid

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Temporary workers have been hard hit by the pandemic’s fallout but some may be wary about formalising their status

By Menna A. Farouk

CAIRO, March 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Egypt will start registering millions of gig workers in order to offer them health insurance and emergency state aid during the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a particularly heavy toll on the nation’s ad-hoc employees, officials said.

There are at least 14 million gig workers in Egypt, and while some workers and campaigners welcomed the government’s drive, others warned that many workers could be reluctant to sign up – fearing tax and social security payment demands.

The government said it plans to identify and support 2 million gig workers in the country of 100 million people by the end of this year, labour ministry spokesman Haitham Saad El-Din said on Saturday.

“It is part of a government plan to give assistance to this segment of the society which has been majorly affected by the pandemic,” he said, adding that officials were focusing first on identifying casual construction labourers.

Gig workers who have their employment status registered on their national identity cards under a new “irregular employment” category will be given free social security insurance and be eligible for state welfare programmes.

Egypt’s state-run insurance plan includes life insurance and disability cover, as well as covering healthcare costs.

The announcement is the latest in a series of government measures aimed at shielding vulnerable groups from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Soon after the coronavirus outbreak began, it launched a programme that supports irregular workers with monthly aid, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for financial support to be boosted when a second virus wave took hold.

State welfare spending surged 36% in the first half of the current fiscal year, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said recently.

ON THE BOOKS

Some daily labourers hailed the registration drive as a positive step, saying it would help bring them into the formal economy and recognise their economic contribution.

“Millions of Egyptians have been affected by this pandemic but it’s really good that the government is not leaving us behind,” said Farouk Mahmoud, 35, a temporary worker from the city of Sohag.

Still, while the latest data puts the number of gig workers at 14 million, the real number may be much higher – making registering them a daunting administrative task, said Bassant Fahmi, a member of parliament’s economic affairs committee.

Some workers may also be wary about being on the books.

“Many of them may fear being asked afterwards to pay taxes or insurance. That could mean a lot of gig workers avoiding being identified by the government,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But besides any misgivings about being under the government’s radar, many gig workers in Egypt are more concerned about the dearth of permanent job opportunities – especially for young people – and the health of the wider economy.

“It isn’t crucial for me to have a job on my ID,” said Abanoub Lotfi, a 26-year-old driver for ride-hailing service Uber, who has a degree in commerce.

“What really matters is that the government offers me a stable job that suits my academic background and helps me afford my needs and those of my family.”

Related stories:

Tech-savvy women could beat COVID-19 job blues in the Arab world

Egypt begins COVID-19 vaccination drive with frontline medical staff

Egypt eyes slow return for tourism after revenues dive in 2020

(Reporting by Menna A. Farouk; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org )

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