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

(Black Press files)
Chief Civilian Director Ronald J. McDonald, QC reviewed the evidence and determined reasonable grounds exist to believe in officer may have committed offenses. (Black Press files)
Crown considering charges against Williams Lake Mountie after high-speed pursuit: police watchdog

IIO says the man, who was arrested, sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries from the incident

An RCMP cruiser flashes its light as it speeds up Highway 97. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Officers suffer minor injuries after a fight with a prohibited driver

The 44-year-old man resisted arrest and shoved an officer to the ground

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Ken Jensen is launching a campaign to keep access to his audio library books. (Photo submitted).
White Cane Club president lobbies to preserve audio book access

Ken Jensen is urging others to send letters to federal government to preserve funding for CELA.

Sarah Smith is a bereavement worker with 100 Mile Hospice. (Kelly Sinoski - 100 Mile Free Press).
‘Grief never goes away’: Hospice seeks to add programs

Growing demand for bereavement services in the South Cariboo region.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

A large illuminated heart was installed on the roof of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital May 1, 2020. (VJH Foundation photo)
Three deaths linked to COVID-19 outbreak in Vernon hospital

Interior Health reports two additional deaths at VJH

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Most Read