With the conversation about Uber coming to B.C. heating up, we’ve heard plenty about customer demand, safety, insurance, and the taxi industry.
But what we haven’t heard much about are one of the key stakeholders in the conversation: the future drivers who will be Ubering us around.
With the “sharing economy” squarely on the agenda, it’s prompted a call from some of B.C.’s tech workers for a conversation about how the province’s labour force of the future will be treated.
Digital working class
Alex Samuel is a Vancouver technology researcher who’s calling on the province to classify workers in the growing so-called sharing economy as employees.
“We all have something to lose if people can be put out of good jobs and into employment situations where they don’t have protection.”
That’s because according to Uber, its workers are independent contractors, not employees.
Here in B.C., that could mean no minimum wage, no overtime, no employment insurance, no WorkSafe protection, and no coverage on expenses like gas or vehicle maintenance.
It’s a controversial classification, and one that’s prompted a class action lawsuit by drivers in California who want official protections.
For Samuel, it’s a part of a broader conversation as we move towards an “on demand” or “sharing” economy.
Samuel says she, and the dozens of other tech workers who signed the open letter she penned, are worried that bringing Uber in under a “contractor” model could be the spearhead of a worrying shift as we move towards a new class of workers with fewer rights.
“Uber and air BnB are kind of the front line of a larger shift to peer to peer and on demand services, where people are able to buy stuff they want, when they want, where they want it, get it delivered. And in some ways it’s super awesome… But the flip side of that is a lot of people who are employed in that on-demand economy make terrible, terrible money doing it. So we have this fantasy that we’re moving to a world of flexible employement. But what we’re actually potentially moving to is a world where nobody makes any money.”
On the table
“It has been raised, it has been brought to our attention, and again it will be one of the considerations as we review whatever measures we might contemplate in the future.”
Fassbender says the province is looking at other jurisdictions as far as treatment of employees and contractors is concerned.
But he says so far, the province hasn’t taken any position on the matter.
“There is nothing that isn’t on the table for review and discussion.”
Last month, the province shifted its tone on allowing Uber into the province, with Transportation minister Todd Stone saying it was a matter of “when not if” the ride-hailing service would arrive.
Since then, Fassbender has been conducting consultations with stakeholders, including Uber and the Taxi industry.
The city of Vancouver however, has been steadfast in denying the service permission to operate.
A representative from Uber did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.