As the British Columbia government moves to allow ride-hailing companies to operate in the province, it needs to do more to protect drivers from exploitation, said BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger.
“From our perspective, if we’re going to open up our province to these multinational, profitable companies, then we need to have a mechanism to set some standards for workers too,” Lanzinger said.
“When you think of a good job, it’s a job with good wages, benefits, a pension plan,” she said. “A job where you’re healthy and safe, and if you get injured you’re entitled to benefits. None of that will apply to drivers in these ride-sharing companies.”
On Monday, B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena introduced legislation that lays the groundwork for ride hailing in the province.
It included a requirement that drivers have a Class 4 driver’s licence, the same as a taxi or limousine driver would have, and enabled ICBC to develop an insurance product for ride hailing by next fall.
Lanzinger said the steps were positive, but she was disappointed the legislation did not also specify that drivers should be treated as employees, with the protections that entails, rather than contractors.
Trevena said the legislation doesn’t consider the drivers’ relationship to the companies that operate ride-hailing apps, saying “that’s part of labour legislation.”
She said the government is opening the door for a new kind of service in B.C. and that the companies will be responsible for making sure their drivers have the record checks and licences they need to carry passengers.
“We obviously want to make sure everybody’s working in a safe environment, that they are being respected as workers, and that they are getting a fair and living wage,” she said.
She didn’t specify further how the government would do that.
The government is unlikely, however, to receive any pressure on the issue from the leader of either of the opposition parties in the legislature.
BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said that the provincial government is already over-regulating ride hailing. “People run food trucks without having the BC Federation of Labour tell them what their wages are, don’t they? The wages of employees are set by labour standards. The wages of contractors and entrepreneurs are not.”
So is he suggesting it’s okay for people to work for less than minimum wage? “British Columbia’s got a strong economy because of 16 years of good government. There are lots of jobs around, and people will make their own decisions where they want to work and how they can make the best wage.”
Andrew Weaver, the leader of the BC Green Party, said that many people who drive for ride-hailing companies aren’t doing it as their main job.
“In terms of precarious work, for many people who drive Lyft and Uber, it’s seen as a means of supplementing income,” he said. “This actually allows some people to earn some extra income on top of whatever they do, and I think that’s a benefit.”
He said that while most taxi drivers are male, ride-hailing drivers tend to be more diverse.
“When I was in America this past summer, most of my drivers were female and they were doing it [for] extra work. Some of them did it when they were staying at home with their kids and they did it during certain times in the day to supplement income, so in some instances it can be beneficial.”
Uber Canada’s head of cities for the west, Michael van Hemmen, said that on a first look the legislation appears to be a step forward, but more detail is needed before the company can decide whether to move ahead in the province.
“We’re looking for a model that allows as many people as possible to safely participate,” he said. “Today raises a lot of questions about the future of ride sharing in B.C. That being said, Uber is 100 per cent committed to working with the NDP government, with Green and Liberal MLAs, in order to find a path forward.”
Lanzinger said the ways that ride hailing companies have operated in other jurisdictions demonstrate why the B.C. government needs to do what it can to protect workers from exploitation.
“Companies like Uber and so-called ride sharing companies have been front and centre at creating these part-time, precarious jobs where no one earns a decent living,” she said. “They try to absolve themselves of all of the responsibilities of employers. They don’t pay [WorkSafeBC] premiums or EI premiums. They don’t pay into a pension plan.”
The companies should be treated like other employers, and have to pay at least a minimum wage and follow the province’s employment standards, Lanzinger said.
“We know that the free market exploits workers in many situations, and without rules and regulations and without putting standards in place for workers, that workers are often exploited,” she said.
As the government reviews the labour code and considers changes to employment standards it needs to be thinking about the kinds of jobs people have today, Lanzinger added. “We need to think about the changing nature of the economy and the increase in part-time precarious work.”