App-based workers could receive a minimum wage higher than workers in other sectors, but only for the time during which they deliver food or carry passengers, according to a discussion paper from the provincial labour ministry.
Alternatively, app-based workers could end up being paid like taxi drivers with platform companies like Uber paying the difference if their workers do not get enough assignment to earn minimum wage.
These two approaches appear in the discussion paper titled Proposing Employment Standards and Other Protections for App-Based Ride-Hail and Food-Delivery Workers in British Columbia. The paper is the part of the ministry’s engagement on employment standards for app-based ride-hail and food-delivery workers. The ministry has asked parties to submit input by Sept. 30.
The paper outlines priorities heard during the first engagement phase and offers “policy context” for considering appropriate standards and other protections. Organized around a set of discussion questions, the paper asks for input on four broad areas: fair compensation standards; pay and destination transparency; account suspensions, deactivations and terminations; and workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety coverage.
Central to the question of pay is the difference between engaged time — the period during which workers accept assignments to their end — and unengaged time — the period, which workers spent logged on but without delivering food or carrying passengers.
The first approach discussed would see apply a minimum hourly wage for engaged time only, setting it higher than the general hourly minimum to recognize unpaid unengaged time. The report points to California, where app-based drivers earn 120 per cent of the local minimum wage for engaged time, and New York City, which uses a multiple of the minimum wage for engaged time based on the average time workers spend unengaged.
The other approach would apply the general minimum hourly wage to engaged time and time spent online seeking assignments.
“Like the minimum wage standard for B.C.’s taxi drivers, the hours could be averaged over the month,” it says. It adds that taxi companies must ensure that the total monthly wages of drivers add to the same or more to the wages drivers would have received under the provincial minimum wage for every hour worked per month.
“If the driver has earned less than an equivalent of B.C.’s hourly minimum wage, the taxi company must pay the driver the difference,” it reads.
Other issues covered in the discussion paper include tips, termination protection and workers’ compensation and related safety standards.
The report notes that many platform companies do not provide workers’ compensation coverage.
The report notes that independent contractors can receive workers’ compensation coverage by purchasing personal optional protection from WorkSafeBC, but few ride-hail and food-delivery workers have pursued this type of coverage.
App-based companies treat their employees as independent contractors and the industry has faced criticism from former workers and unions for exploitative practices as well as poor pay and protection measures.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said this spring that his government is looking into the larger issue of workers in the app-based industries following the release of the initial engagement report, but did not publicly commit to legislation in the fall.
“We are looking at ways — how do we protect these workers, their health and safety, and number two, if they are injured and become ill at workplaces, what kind of protection (and) support is available to them,” Bains said.
He said more information will come forward in the future. He also signalled that government won’t shy away from taking on companies like Uber.
“Regardless of who the employer is, our emphasis is always on the workers.”
Sussanne Skidmore, BC Federation of Labour president, said in a statement to Black Press Media that her organization welcomes that government is looking into protecting app-based workers.
“We’re going to respond thoughtfully (to the discussion paper), based on what these workers have told us through many conversations,” she said. “And at every step, we’ll keep pressing to put worker protections front and centre.”