Delivery-app drivers and other gig workers fear loss of income as restaurants, stores reopen
App couriers in N.B. are expecting a steep drop in work as pandemic restrictions near an end
In the middle of the pandemic last summer, Samouel Garinis saw an opportunity to earn an income delivering meals to people stuck at home.
As a new full-time Skip the Dishes driver in Fredericton, Garinis made about $20 an hour during good weeks and as little as $5 an hour when times were tough.
Now, after witnessing a decrease in orders as the province sheds COVID-19 restrictions, he is wondering what will become the new norm.
"The glamour does fade away," said the 21-year-old. "It's not as fun as it was when I first started, but I still look upon it well.
"It's a very free job — I can listen to music, podcasts, I can pick my shifts for whenever, really. As long as someone else hasn't swiped away those shifts already."
Garinis said that every Thursday, Skip the Dishes shifts for the next week become available randomly throughout the afternoon, up for grabs for any driver to claim. This is the most stressful part of his week.
"You don't know how good a day is going to be," Garinis said. "It might be horrible one day, it might be great another. Obviously, with the pandemic slowing down it's going to get less busy of course — but that's the main bit of it. It's just not a very stable job."
Statistics Canada, which describes gig workers as self-employed freelancers, on-demand online workers and day labourers, found they represented about eight to 10 per cent of all Canadian workers in 2016, according to the agency's most recent data.
Before the pandemic arrived in Canada in 2020, an estimated 10 per cent of Canadians worked in the gig economy, Statscan says.
Gig worker Megan Foster of Fredericton said the meal delivery platforms Skip the Dishes and DoorDash and grocery counterpart Instacart were not widely used in the city until last year, when the pandemic started keeping people at home.
The meal delivery platforms are often grouped alongside ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft for offering on-demand delivery and transportation services.
"I didn't even know any of them, like none of them existed," Foster said of the three food delivery platforms she now works for.
"And then the pandemic hit and people needed stuff brought to their houses, and restaurants needed to make money. And so it definitely accelerated [use]. And I'm hoping that it doesn't stop after the pandemic."
Unlikely to be stable, expert says
But looking ahead, experts say gig work in Fredericton may not be able to stabilize and grow at the rate expected in larger urban centres.
"They really have to follow the demand where and when it arises, and really then, I would call that more instability than flexibility," said associate professor of sociology Paul Glavin at McMaster University in Ontario, who is studying the gig economy and its effect on participants' mental health.
For the 26-year-old Foster, taking up shifts for each platform helped supplement her full-time income as a personal support worker.
"By doing the side hustle with Skip the Dishes and DoorDash and Instacart, I was able to pay off a lot of my debt, so it was a big help," said Foster, who hopes to keep doing gig work part time once she transitions back into her day job.
"Now that I'm taking a break from home care, it's helping cover bills on its own."
Gig worker sees continuing need
With New Brunswick now in Phase 2 of its so-called path to green, with green meaning full reopening, Foster hopes customers and workers will continue to use the apps. She said the services fill gaps, especially for people in rural areas or with mobility issues and in need of help with groceries.
"I find with Instacart, that one has been really helpful for the seniors. I know a lot of the regular seniors that I shop for, and they really enjoy having us bring [groceries] to them."
Although gig work has become more common, New Brunswick does not have any information that tracks who participates in the gig economy.
Moving out of the pandemic, the biggest challenge for researchers and government is finding ways to track this fluid labour market, said Glavin.
"It's very easy to identify a full-time worker with a single employer, but when people are loosely attached to gig work, that makes it challenging."
Although Garinis believes app-based work will become more commonplace, he said he's planning on a gradual transition back into traditional full-time work.
"It's already been slower this summer than it was last summer, where I could average out, like, $20 when the pandemic really was starting. It's not been good — I am prepared to get another job."