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

RCMP responded to 256 calls from April 12 to April 19, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Terrace RCMP briefs: Bear spray, assault with a hammer and hot tub theft

RCMP responded to 256 calls from April 12 to April 19, 2021

The Pure Movements dance group performing ‘Coffee, Coffee, Coffee…Americano’ during the 2019 Pacific Northwest Music Festival, the last to be held before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 editions of the two-week Terrace event. (Submitted Photo/ Ken Juniper)
Spotlighting the Arts 2021 brings performances to the people during pandemic

The initiative was created by organizers of the cancelled Pacific Northwest Music Festival

There were 29 new COVID-19 cases recorded in Terrace between April 11 and April 15, 2021. (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control)
New COVID-19 cases in Terrace increase by 15 compared to previous week

There were 29 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the Terrace area between April 11 and April 17

Nass forest service road deactivated due to Landslide. (NLG Conservation/Facebook)
Landslide deactivates Nass-Kinskutch service road

Service road going to Kitsault and Alice Arm affected

Terrace-based Skeena Diversity Society among organizations to receive provincial funding to combat (Skeena Diversity Society/Facebook)
Skeena Diversity Society receives provincial funding to combat racism

The provincial funding extends to 36 organizations covering 57 communities

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

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Shannon Zirnhelt, from left, her son Lockie, 3, Julia Zirnhelt, 13, and Ella Krus, 13, co-founders of Third Planet Crusade are featured in a music video set to air on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.-made music video launched in time for Earth Day 2021

Singer songwriter Shannon Zirnhelt worked with Third Planet Crusade on the project in the Cariboo

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

Most Read