2 important cases put gig economy on trial in Canada

The outcome of the cases could have serious ramifications for gig economy workers.

Ottawa (8 Nov. 2019) ― 2 important cases that could impact the lives of gig economy workers are being heard this week in Ottawa and Toronto. The first is a case brought forward by Uber that is currently being heard in the Supreme Court of Canada. The second is being fought by Foodora couriers at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).

Clause in Uber’s contract ruled illegal by Ontario Court of Appeal

As reported by CBC News, Uber is challenging an Ontario Court of Appeal decision before the Supreme Court of Canada. The original court decision was handed down after a driver for UberEats named David Heller attempted to launch a class action lawsuit that would force the company to recognize drivers as employees. Under their current contracts, all Uber drivers are classified as independent contractors, meaning Uber has no legal obligation to provide them with a minimum wage, vacation pay, or other protections granted to all employees under the Employment Standards Act.

Heller’s proposed class action lawsuit was blocked by a clause in Uber’s legal terms that forces all labour disputes to go through mediation in the Netherlands. According to CBC News, this process costs US$14,500 — an amount that’s approximately 50% to 75% of Heller’s yearly salary from Uber before taxes and expenses. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the clause is illegal as it outsources an employment standard. Uber is challenging that ruling in the Supreme Court.

Foodora couriers must be allowed to unionize

Similar to Uber’s drivers, Foodora couriers are classified as independent contractors. In May 2019, Foodora couriers and drivers announced their intention to join the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). CUPW filed for union certification with the OLRB, and a vote was held in August, but the results remain sealed. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) wrote a story in August 2019 covering these events and voicing support for the workers.

press release from CUPW states that “Foodora couriers, along with their allies and supporters, gathered outside the OLRB before the hearings began” in a show of solidarity. Many of the allies who joined Foodora couriers were Uber drivers, some of whom also recently unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Gig economy workers organizing around the world

Last month, Vice reported that Foodora couriers in Norway and UberEats couriers in Japan were able to form the first unions for workers at the 2 food delivery giants. In California, some gig workers may soon be reclassified as employees from having been independent contractors (giving workers the ability to legally unionize) if Assembly Bill No. 5 goes into effect as expected in January 2020.

“Gig economy workers in Canada and around the world are saying enough is enough,” says NUPGE President, Larry Brown. “It shouldn’t be controversial to say workers deserve to earn a living wage and be afforded the same rights and protections granted to other workers. NUPGE sends a message of solidarity to these workers as they fight for their right to organize.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE