'The Airbnb for hourly paid work': How a Toronto app is feeding the gig economy

A Toronto–based app connecting restaurants and bars to workers will soon be expanding to the city's retail market, adding a new dimension to the growing gig economy — and raising questions about how to protect the workers who depend on it.

Hyr, an app connecting restaurants with temporary workers, is expanding to include retail later this month

Mandy Magnan picks up three or four shifts a week using Hyr, a Toronto-based app that connects temporary workers with bars and restaurants trying to fill extra shifts. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

A Toronto–based app connecting restaurants and bars to temporary workers will soon be expanding to the city's retail market, adding a new dimension to the growing gig economy  — and raising questions about how to protect the workers who depend on it.

Hyr launched in February 2017. About 300 Toronto restaurants now use it and more than 5,000 workers have also logged on.

"We've grown exponentially," said the app's co-founder, Erika Mozes. "The first demand for it really came from workers because ... this new economy and the way that people want to be able to make money when they want to make money."

"We're kind of the Airbnb for hourly paid work," Mozes said.

Erika Mozes co-founded Hyr after experiencing a busy downtown patio. 'Wouldn't it be great,' she thought, 'if this restaurant could actually get the help they need when they need it?' (Petar Valkov/CBC)

To use the app, workers create a profile with their skill level, preferred pay, even a photo. The restaurant also creates a profile and posts shifts along with what they'll pay.

Restaurant managers can then scroll through applications and choose the worker they want.

The app takes a cut of the earnings — between 19 and 30 per cent — but according to Mozes, the resulting pay is still similar to the industry standard.

After the shift is over, both the worker and the restaurant can rate each other so future users know if the profile matches reality.

Who's using it

Workers on the app are typically between 19 and 29, with women making up about 60 per cent, Mozes said.

Mandy Magnan started using the app in January. She's worked in the hospitality industry for years but wanted more flexibility to pursue a career in acting.

"I thought it would be such an amazing experience to not only work at all different places but be able to make my own schedule," she said.

The app allows workers to create a profile, which gives employers an idea of their skill level, work history and qualifications. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

Now, Magnan works three or four shifts a week, using the app as her sole source of income.

"Sometimes it can be a little bit nerve-wracking," she said. "I've been bartending and serving full-time for so long ... once you learn it then you just follow suit and you can pretty much do it anywhere.

Sam Lamonde, operations manager at The Carbon Bar on Queen Street East, started using the app more than a year ago to fill vacancies in a pinch, when workers call in sick.

"We definitely need some helping hands sometimes, so that's when Hyr comes in to save the day" he said. "I can literally filter and choose and decide who's the right candidate for the job."

Sam Lamonde believes Hyr creates more opportunities for people in the hospitality market. He said one Hyr worker made such a good impression during his shifts, he's now a staff member at the Carbon Bar. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Lamonde typically uses the app to fill positions that don't require a deeper knowledge of the restaurant, such as a dishwasher, bartender or bartender's assistant.

Lagging regulations

Researchers at MaRS Discovery District are studying how Hyr fits in to the future of work, as well as providing advice to the app's team.

"What's really interesting about Hyr is that it speaks to a very interesting demographic that allows them to gain experience, fund what they want to do and … helps them find a path forward," said Krista Jones, managing director of Work and Learning at MaRS.

"I think contingent work is a permanent part of what work looks like in the future ... it's what people want as well as how our business models are evolving."

Krista Jones believes contingent work will be a permanent part of the future, but she wants to see more innovative policies and regulations to protect those workers. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

Still, Jones worries about a lag in proper regulations to go with this new type of work.

"That layer of social safety net that is known to be part of the Canadian way of life is missing," she told CBC Toronto. 

"We don't have the right policies; we don't have the right capabilities, whether it's from insurance and short- and long-term disability, and those types of activities, we don't have the mindset for how we fund those in a gig-like economy."

To fix that, "we need to experiment," she said.

The way forward

For its part, Hyr does offer some interesting solutions, according to Jones.

New York is Hyr's only other market, but the app should be in other cities by early-2019, according to its co-founder. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

The app offers points for every dollar earned using the app. Once workers reach a certain number of points, they can take a paid sick day or vacation day.

"Hopefully, by the end of this year, instead of a vacation day we're going to partner with an insurance provider so they can get health or dental benefits or insurance," Mozes said.

The app is growing from its current markets in Toronto and New York City to more cities by 2019, she added.

Their expansion into Toronto's retail market will happen sometime later this month with "a good number of brands," and in future, Mozes believes the app could work in several other sectors.

"As we grow we're going to be adding more skills," Mozes said. "Whether you're working at a gym, you're working in a retail place, you're working in a hospitality place ... we really see that expansion into the future."

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.