Labour Minister Bains says ride-hailing companies are not exempt from labour laws

Harry Bains

LABOUR Minister Harry Bains on Wednesday told The VOICE that ride-hailing companies are not exempt from the province’s labour laws.

This newspaper had asked Bains for his reaction to the BC Federation of Labour’s letter to BC’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) outlining why ride-hailing drivers should be classified as employees and have the protection of the Employment Standards Act.

Bains said: “I, as Minister of Labour, expect all employers in B.C. to comply with our labour laws, including health and safety.”

He pointed out that there are some groups that are exempted from these provisions right now like teachers, accountants and high-tech company employees. But he added that the taxi and ride-hailing services are not.

Bains said: “So I expect that the labour laws will apply to them and if anyone has any issue with that they can always challenge that at the Employments Standard Branch and the Employments Standard will investigate and make a decision.”

Bains also pointed out that the taxi industry already has a decision by the Employments Standard Branch through the Tribunal that the taxi drivers are employees of the company. Therefore, employment standards apply to them.

He said: “So right now we do not have ride-hailing companies, we don’t have any ride-hailing employees. But where there is an employer-employee relationship, our employment standards apply and health and safety standards apply.”

BCFED President Laird Cronk said on Tuesday: “Workers driving for ride-hailing businesses typically face low wages and zero workplace protections. BC has one chance to establish a fair system. It’s up to the provincial government and the PTB to do what’s right: ensure ride-hailing drivers are classified as employees and have minimum labour protections.”

The BCFED noted that California recently passed legislation to combat the misclassification of ride-hailing and other gig-economy workers, giving them access to minimum wages and other labour protections.

IN its letter to the PTB, the BCFED pointed out: “To understand the potential negative impact on the quality of jobs in BC’s transportation sector, the PTB must contend with how companies like Uber and Lyft misclassify their employees as independent contractors elsewhere. By insisting their drivers are not employees (and lobbying governments aggressively to that effect), companies like Uber and Lyft are able to avoid meeting minimum labour standards for wages, benefits and safety.

“Key early-adopter jurisdictions where ride-hailing platforms operate have begun increasing regulation of the sector after its establishment and proliferation. In the United Kingdom, for example, Uber recently lost an appeal against a landmark 2016 ruling mandating that it treat its drivers as employees entitled to benefits like a minimum wage and holiday pay. In New York, Uber is fiercely fighting new restrictions on fleet size and fares which are meant to bring more fairness to the market. Most substantially, California recently passed landmark legislation that will allow “gig economy” workers, including Uber and Lyft workers, to get labour protections and benefits that all employees get in that state. This includes “unemployment insurance, health care subsidies, paid parental leave, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, paid rest breaks,” and the minimum hourly wage. It also allows gig workers the opportunity to unionize.

“As the PTB assesses applications, it cannot ignore the challenging working conditions that are the norm in other jurisdictions, and which have allowed ride-hailing platform drivers to be treated as independent contractors. The stark power disparity between workers and ridehailing companies is a major source of discontent among drivers around the globe. For example, in instances when Uber and Lyft drastically reduced their fare rates, drivers were forced to significantly increase the amount of hours they worked just to maintain the same level of income. This raises concerns about both driver and pedestrian safety.

“These drivers are beginning to demand their rights as workers be respected. For example, due to concerns with health, safety and wages, Uber and Lyft drivers went on strike in 12 U.S. cities this year, as well as in Brazil, Australia, Kenya, Nigeria, Chile and Costa Rica. Here in Canada, hundreds of Uber drivers in Toronto have come together in a drive to unionize. While out of the scope of the PTB, the BCFED continues to advocate for sectoral bargaining to make it easier for workers in highly-precarious sectors like ride-hailing to organize and form a union.”