Ottawa

'Gig economy' workers worried about qualifying for income support

People who juggle more than one job to make ends meet say they're worried they'll fall through the cracks when it comes to federal income support benefits introduced to help Canadians weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Performers, occasional teachers may not qualify due to income from part-time jobs

Dave Burke performed at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in February. He said he's lost half his income due to COVID-19-related cancellations, but can't access the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit because he has a second part-time job. (Supplied by Dave Burke/Photo: Danish Anwar)

"Gig economy" workers say they're worried they'll fall through the cracks when it comes to federal income support benefits introduced to help Canadians weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly one million people applied for the Canada emergency relief benefit (CERB) on the first day of the emergency program, some of whom juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Toronto-based standup comedian Dave Burke said he doesn't know when he'll be able to work again.

"Comedy was completely shut down, and I'm lucky to still be able to work this part-time office job from home," Burke said.

But Burke said that office job means he can't qualify for the CERB, which offers about $2,000 a month for up to four months for people who've completely lost their income due to COVID-19.

"Half my income is gone and I have no relief on the horizon. It's just distressing," Burke said. "I'm going to be in serious financial trouble now unless they announce a decision really soon."

'Gig economy' disconnect

Margo Hébert, interim general manager of Arts Network Ottawa, said several performers and artists are in similar situations now that gallery showings and performances are cancelled.

Contract and freelance workers are among those who aren’t eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. 1:57

She said the CERB needs to be adjusted to reflect the reality that some people hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet.

"It's not really how many folks within the gig economy work. It assumes you have regular shifts. It assumes that your workshops work for 14 days on end. It's not conducive to how a lot of artists work," Hébert said.

"It's going to mean an increase in folks going to food banks. It's going to be an increase in folks having to beg, borrow and steal funds from friends and family."

The CERB also creates a complicated situation for artists who are now trying to make a living through online streaming shows, sales or earned royalties for broadcast use, because the benefit requires 14 consecutive days without income.

Occasional teachers also uncertain

The Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Occasional Teachers Association has some members who qualify for the CERB, but there's uncertainty for daily occasional teachers who may also have been holding down retail or other jobs.

David Wildman, shown here in 2019, is president of the association representing occasional teachers in Ottawa. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"Some of the members don't qualify because they still have a one-day-a-week job or something. They're rather anxious about how they're going to manage their finances through this period," said David Wildman, the association's president.

Wildman said it's unclear what demand school boards will have for daily occasional teachers as they move to online learning.

The possible loss of shifts replacing sick teachers could put teachers on long-term part-time contracts in a position where they don't have access to short-term shifts to supplement their income. 

"It would be very difficult for someone in a 25 per cent long-term assignment to live on 25 per cent of a beginning teacher salary, but they wouldn't qualify for additional help from the government because they do have an income," Wildman said.

University students are also facing uncertainty about summer employment and may not have earned enough income during the school year to qualify for the CERB or employment insurance.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the concerns on Monday, when CERB applications opened. Trudeau said the government is working to fill in the gaps for students and people who are facing reduced work hours due to COVID-19.

Applications are now open for the Canada emergency response benefit. (CBC)

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