FILE – The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

FILE – The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini

As Liberals consider EI update, gig workers hope to qualify for social safety net

The April 19 budget could signal where the government is heading

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


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

EI benefitsEmploymentLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

Victoria police are asking for help locating high-risk missing man Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria April 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Police searching for Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria

Whittaker believed to be driving 1994 red Volkswagen Golf

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

Possible COVID-19 exposures were reported at Maple Bay Elementary between April 12 and 15. (Google Maps screenshot)
Possible COVID-19 exposure reported at Maple Bay Elementary

Exposures may have occurred between April 12 and 15

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Most Read