"Gig economy workers are highly vulnerable to exploitation and need representation. Receiving no pay if sick, no protection if injured, and no respect for workers' rights is not acceptable. Foodora workers have chosen to organize and registered to vote to join a union. The Ontario Labour Relations Board should respect the rights of these workers and allow the votes to be counted." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Toronto (26 Aug. 2019) — The ballots await counting after Foodora workers voted on unionization in an organizing effort that highlighted the need to protect precarious and vulnerable workers. The company is trying to kill the process by petitioning the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to deny the vote, claiming that Foodora workers are independent contractors with no right to unionize. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) supports the right of these workers to organize and calls on the OLRB to respect their human rights and labour rights by counting the ballots.
Gig economy growing, leaving many workers vulnerable
It is estimated that about one third of Canadian workers are gig workers with no benefits, no security, and an inability to negotiate the terms of their employment. The number is rising every day and gig employers are pushing a model of on-demand, freelance or contingent employees who are given temporary or contract employment rather than full-time positions with benefits. This model is being used to effectively deny these workers hard won union rights. Foodora couriers in Toronto work in dangerous conditions, especially in the winter, and need health and safety protection, better compensation and respect for their basic rights. NUPGE supports these workers in their drive to join the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
Foodora workers' rights must be respected
The votes have been cast but the company is trying to have the vote quashed by claiming these workers have no right to unionize. To send a clear signal supporting workers’ rights and the rule of law, the OLRB should rule in favour of respecting workers' rights and count the votes. This would show that Canada respects our international and domestic obligations regarding human rights. NUPGE says denying these workers their right to join a union would be a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association under section 2(d).
In the future, even more gig workers will need representation
As app-based services like Foodora, Uber, Lyft and the like become more ubiquitous, the need for these workers to have the protection of a union will become more acute. In the U.S., the precipitous drop in union density has also resulted in a stagnation in real wages for workers. Today's gig workers are vulnerable and live in a state of constant precarity as their employers reap the profit from avoiding the normal obligations related to having employees, such as payments into the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance (EI), group health plans, workers' compensation etc. As more workers find themselves in these precarious jobs, it is becoming clear that our labour laws need to adapt to these new realities. We need to close loopholes that allow employers to ignore their obligations to workers just because they are using technology and algorithms to control their workers.
The Foodora ruling by the OLRB will be significant whatever the decision. A positive decision allowing the vote will demonstrate to all workers in precarious jobs that they have an option beyond being exploited. A negative decision, killing the vote, will mean that workers and unions have to ramp up their efforts to change these outdated laws and the regulatory bodies that govern workers.
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