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As Liberals consider EI update, gig workers hope to qualify for social safety net – Vancouver Island Free Daily

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Ryan G. Hinds longs for the days of walking through the halls of a theatre and seeing musicians warm up, stage managers chit-chatting and technicians sharing a piece of licorice before a show.

It’s been a long year for the 42-year-old Toronto actor and cabaret performer, who has watched how a safety net for unemployed workers has failed to catch gig workers like Hinds.

The place of gig workers has become a key issue in ongoing deliberation on how the decades-old employment insurance system will be updated.

There is general agreement that the social safety net program created eight decades ago needs to be adapted to cover gig workers when they fall on hard times.

Questions exist at the practical level, such as how to calculate premiums and benefits, in addition to policy concerns about determining when someone needs aid, given that the nature of gig employment includes ups and downs.

“EI has to join the 21st century because to me, an EI that doesn’t cover everybody isn’t a functional or realistic or fair or useful EI,” said Hinds, who uses the pronoun they.

The April 19 budget could signal where the government is heading, particularly as it lays out federal expectations for premiums paid by employers and employees, and benefits to be paid out, over the coming years.

Nura Jabagi, an expert on the gig economy, said government policy will catch up with the new realities of employment, noting movement in Europe.

“There’s this very antiquated thinking around employment that hasn’t really caught up with what’s going on,” said Jabagi, a Concordia University Public Scholar who spent a decade in e-commerce.

“Historically, freelance work was sort of a niche thing, and it’s becoming much more mainstream. And so we have to recognize these shifts and think about how we view employment.”

The country’s gig economy comprised 1.7 million workers in 2016, a 70 per cent jump from a decade earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

At the time, recent male immigrant workers were almost twice as likely as their Canadian-born counterparts to be part of the gig economy, and more women than men in the overall labour force were gig workers.

Last year, gig workers accounted for about one-tenth of all hours lost through the pandemic, a greater proportion than any preceding downturn.

A briefing note to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the loss of hours reflected the growth in the gig economy over the last decade. This group of workers “does not tend to lose their job the way that employees do,” officials wrote in the note, a copy of which The Canadian Press obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Quebec musician Francois Plante was working for a television show at the onset of the pandemic and watched as performer after performer cancelled appearances because some had travelled to COVID-19 hot spots, or feared getting on planes.

Most of Plante’s gigs were then called off and he was left worrying that the sector wouldn’t return to what it was before the pandemic.

Plante said he enrolled in urban-planning courses in case he needed a backup career, possibly outside the gig economy.

“I’m well-established … and I had a couple of online gigs, but for a lot of people, it’s been really hard and a lot of them have already switched to another job,” Plante said.

Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, said precarious self-employment grew slightly during the initial months of the pandemic, and fell after July when economic conditions improved.

Stanford suggested the pandemic may have initially driven some people to take up new gig-type jobs that don’t normally qualify for EI.

“During the pandemic these workers had nothing to fall back on. That posed a threat to public health, as well as equity, because these people were compelled to keep working no matter what,” Stanford said.

“It is urgent that the federal and provincial governments expand and reform existing income (support) and labour policies to make sure that gig workers have something to fall back on.”

Jabagi said many ride-hailing service workers, like Uber drivers, have shifted to delivery services to avoid contact with people, but they haven’t made up lost earnings with supply of drivers outpacing service demand.

She noted that gig workers on professional-services platforms who can work remotely have not seen a steep drop in their hours, reflecting similar trends in the broader economy.

Tara Deschamps and Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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Workers

Feds seek input into gig worker vulnerability

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OTTAWA—The latest Canadian Construction Association newsletter reports that the federal government through Employment and Social Development Canada is looking for input on potential updates to the Canada Labour Code to accommodate gig workers.

Labour Minister Filomena Tassi has issued a request for information, “citing COVID-19 as having exposed a number of vulnerabilities for gig workers and those that rely on them for essential services.”

The government is seeing input on the experiences of gig workers in federally regulated sectors including those who work through digital platforms such delivery or freelance work; and how federally regulated workers could benefit from a “right to disconnect” from their cellphones after they finish their workday.

The initial consultation period is open until April 30. Further consultation with employers, unions and other stakeholder organizations will follow in the third quarter of 2021.

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Welsh campaigners condemn gig-economy employers after report finds insecure workers are twice as likely to die from Covid-19

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WELSH campaigners condemned employers of insecure and gig-economy workers today after a report found that they were twice as likely to die from Covid-19.

The Morning Star reported today that TUC research had linked insecure work to a much higher risk of contracting and dying from Covid-19.

Welsh Labour’s Senedd candidate for Pontypridd Mick Antoniw called for the devolution of the Health and Safety Executive powers to Wales and pledged new powers.

He said: “The pandemic has exposed the consequence of 10 years of funding cuts of the Health and Safety Executive. There is now a real need to devolve health and safety responsibilities to the Welsh Parliament.”

Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “It is incredible that, over a year into the crisis, the UK government still fails to recognise both the practical and moral case for fixing our broken sick-pay system.

“No matter your race, gender, disability or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

PCS union regional secretary Darren Williams said: “The research highlights the point that it is the same sort of bad employers who deny their staff job security who are also more willing to expose workers to unnecessary risk of Covid.

“We have many members who work in outsourced roles. These workers are often employed in agencies like the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] in Swansea, where management decisions have contributed to 600 staff testing positive for Covid and one person tragically losing his life.” 

Unison Cymru lead for social care Mark Turner said: “Over 60 per cent of care in Wales is provided by the private sector. That’s why Unison is calling for a publicly delivered national care service in Wales.”

Mr Antoniw said that while employment is legally reserved to the Westminster government, the Welsh administration can promote socio-economic change and ethical employment standards through procurement policy.

“This is what underlies the draft Social Partnership Wales Bill, which is currently out for consultation,” he said.

“Putting the current partnership of government, trade unions and business on a statutory basis and using the leverage of public spending to drive ethical standards, worker representation and promote collective bargaining, it is an opportunity to use Welsh powers to drive change and bring working conditions for many into the 21st century.”

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UK gig workers: tell us your experiences during the pandemic | Gig economy

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In recent months, concerns around working conditions and precarious employment have been voiced by workers at several major companies including Uber, Hermes, Amazon and Deliveroo. They are among millions of gig workers in the UK who have continued to drive, deliver, clean and cook – among many other services – throughout the pandemic.

As part of The Guardian’s coverage, we would like to hear about gig workers’ experiences. You can tell us using the form below.

Share your experiences

You can get in touch by filling in the form below, anonymously if you wish or via WhatsApp by clicking here or adding the contact +44(0)7867825056. Your responses are secure as the form is encrypted and only the Guardian has access to your contributions.

One of our journalists will be in contact before we publish, so please do leave contact details.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

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