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

Students from Cedar Hill Middle School play and hold a sign to protest proposed music cuts to school band programs in the Greater Victoria School District, during a Monday event. The district is facing a massive deficit and is considering a number of options for cutting costs. (Photo courtesy Laura Alcaraz-Sehn)
Massive student demonstration planned to protest Greater Victoria school band cuts

Band students from 14 SD61 schools will be at major intersections Thursday after school

Reuben Forsland in his East Sooke studio with the guitar he crafted from hemp wood that he hopes will start a conversation about sustainability. (Rick Stiebel - Sooke News Mirror)
East Sooke artisan strikes a chord with custom guitars

Guitars include wood from Hendrix childhood home in Seattle

Island Health has reported a COVID-19 exposure at Pacific Christian Elementary School on April 12. (Google Streetview/Screenshot)
COVID-19 exposure reported at Saanich elementary school

Pacific Christian Elementary School experienced exposure on April 12

Leon the squirrel gets a fancy snack of almonds and sunflower seeds from a well-meaning local, who really should be leaving Leon to his own foraging devices. (Submitted)
Squirrels don’t need your nuts, thanks

Consider birding instead of wildlife feeding, SPCA suggests

Jessica Sault of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation is hosting a virtual cedar weaving workshop through Royal Roads University on April 25. (Black Press Media file)
Cedar trees weave deeply into lives of coastal First Nations communities

Jessica Sault of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation hosts virtual cedar weaving workshop through Royal Roads

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

The Coastal Fire Centre is looking ahead to the wildfire season on Vancouver Island. (Phil McLachlan – Western News)
Coastal Fire Centre looking ahead at wildfire season on Vancouver Island

‘We’re asking people in the spring to be very careful’

Most Read