Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Future of Workers
Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Motion to Authorize Committee to Study the Future of Workers—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Deacon (Ontario), for the Honourable Senator Lankin, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Pate:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, when and if it is formed, be authorized to examine and report on the future of workers in order to evaluate:
(a)how data and information on the gig economy in Canada is being collected and potential gaps in knowledge;
(b)the effectiveness of current labour protections for people who work through digital platforms and temporary foreign workers programs;
(c)the negative impacts of precarious work and the gig economy on benefits, pensions and other government services relating to employment; and
(d)the accessibility of retraining and skills development programs for workers;
That, in conducting this evaluation, the committee pay particular attention to the negative effects of precarious employment being disproportionately felt by workers of colour, new immigrant and Indigenous workers; and
That the committee submit its final report on this study to the Senate no later than September 30, 2022.
Hon. Marty Deacon: Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Senator Lankin’s motion to authorize a study on the future of Canadian workers, a study most needed as we witness the rapid rise of the gig economy in Canada. Of course, this is not — as indicated by Senator Omidvar — a new phenomenon. It is a tide we’ve seen coming for some years now.
Between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of Canadian workers working in the gig economy rose from 5.5% to 8.2%. We can only expect this number to rise as Canadians everywhere are being asked to stay inside and avoid crowds when they can. This has translated into an increased use of door-to-door, dining apps, package delivery and single-passenger ride-hailing services. The National Finance Committee has heard some of these real-life stories over the past weeks. Furthermore, just as demand for those services has risen, the number of Canadians looking for work has skyrocketed at the same time. According to a recent Policy Options article in August of this year, the unemployment rate for the core working cohort of 25 to 54 years old was 8.9%, up from 5.5% a year earlier. It has been shown that long periods of unemployment translates to a move into gig work.
We tend to think of these jobs as temporary side gigs to supplement someone’s income. We also associate these jobs with young folks who are trying to make a few extra dollars where they can. This could not be further from the truth. Just last week, I had a chance to meet and speak with gig workers in the Waterloo region who spanned age ranges covering five decades. They do not refer to themselves as gig workers, but just as workers, as these are their jobs. They were not students looking to make extra money in their spare time, they were mothers and fathers trying to make ends meet. They talked about poverty, the deep desire to be more economically stable, the loss of hope and their shrinking network of support. They only want financial stability, but they fear they are quickly becoming invisible as we begin to discuss our economic recovery.
As Senator Lankin pointed out, these jobs come with no benefits or job security, and the pandemic has only made the situation worse. Even if they get sick, these workers have no access to sick leave and are forced to choose between risking public health or a paycheque to pay their bills. And what a paltry paycheque it can be. Statistics Canada reported that in 2017, as indicated earlier, with a job within the gig economy it’s about $4,300 a year. Say that a few times and think about that. Moreover, workers in the bottom 40% of annual income distribution were about twice as likely to be involved in gig work as others were.
I also worry that as more Canadians move into the gig economy these services will continue to elbow out traditional unionized jobs that were and are more sustainable in the long-term. We need to look no further than the city of Ottawa to see how this is playing out. It was only in 2016 that ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft were legalized in the city. Since then, it has been reported that close to 600 cab drivers have quit due to a drop of at least 40% in their daily income. To compete with these new ride-hailing services, many jurisdictions have toyed with the idea of deregulating their own industries; a race to the bottom that ensures all workers in an industry are left more vulnerable than they were before.
Honourable senators, it sounds like I might be here to be hard on companies that have disrupted various industries. That is not the case at all. Innovation is crucial in any economy, and the success of these various services is a testament to our demand for them. But as long as they operate in a system where they are allowed to pay their workers a pittance while providing none of the benefits many Canadians have come to rely on, they will continue to do so. We cannot leave it to the workers to advocate for themselves.
While Canadian workers at Foodora won the right to unionize in February, the company announced it was closing its Canadian operations entirely a few months later. They cited the pandemic as the reasoning, but the timing was a little questionable.
Honourable senators, this is where we can help. This is not an issue that can be quickly changed and legislated to tilt the balance back in favour of Canadian workers. We have to work, and work hard, to find a way to move forward together, where innovation, Canada and Canadian workers can thrive. It is my understanding that this is an issue which has been on the Social Affairs Committee’s radar for some time, and the urgency of such a study is only increasing. The present crisis will upend industries for years to come in ways that will be hard for us to predict. Winners and losers might emerge, but we don’t need to be caught off guard when that happens. It is all too clear that the gig economy had momentum coming into this pandemic and it stands to gain more than it will lose as we emerge from it.
With the benefit of foresight, it is crucial that we begin to take a closer look at how we can coexist with the gig economy in a way that can benefit the greatest number of Canadians.
I can think of no better place to begin this process than at the very respected Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, which is why I support this motion.
Thank you. Meegwetch.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.