Ontario set to introduce 'historic' new legislation to give gig workers $15 minimum wage

The Ontario government is set to introduce what it says is the first of its kind legislation that would extend the province's minimum wage to gig workers.

Change only applies to active hours, when a driver is completing a trip or delivery

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's province is introducing new legislation that would give a $15 minimum wage to app-based gig workers, excluding tips. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

The Ontario government is set to introduce what it says is first-of-its-kind legislation that would extend the province's minimum wage to gig workers.

The Working for Workers Act is aimed at adding protection for app-based workers like Uber and Lyft drivers,  Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton says.

"It's important that we have a foundational set of rights for these workers," McNaughton said in an interview with CBC News on Sunday, calling the legislation "historic."

"I want workers to get a bigger share of the economic pie." 

The proposed legislation comes just three months ahead of the Ontario election in June and would give workers a $15 minimum wage, allowing them to keep their tips on top of that base pay.

The legislation only applies to active hours however, which means the driver must be making a delivery or transporting a passenger to earn the minimum hourly wage. If they are waiting for their next trip, the minimum wage does not apply.

Digital platforms would also be required to increase pay transparency, ensuring workers receive written information on the following: 

  • How pay is calculated.
  • Factors used to determined whether they are offered assignments.
  • Performance rating system and consequences of poor ratings.
  • How and when tips are collected by the operator. 

"We continue to hear time and time again that some of these workers are making three or four dollars an hour," McNaughton said. "There was one worker that made $1,500 one week and the next week, for the same hours, made $500." 

The proposed legislation also gives gig workers the right to resolve work-related disputes in Ontario.

Under Uber's previous term of agreement, the company required all disputes to be handled in the Netherlands. In one case that was heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal, it also required up-front administrative and filing fees of $14,500 U.S.

As of late January, the company has since partnered with private sector union UFCW Canada to provide representation to drivers and deliverers facing an account deactivation or other dispute issues.

McNaughton says he is confident other provinces will follow Ontario's lead. 

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Premier Doug Ford called the new bill "groundbreaking," noting that as many as one in five Canadians work in the gig economy. 

"We know that the gig economy is one of the fastest growing employment sectors in Ontario," Ford said. "[Gig workers] deserve every opportunity to earn a living." 

Move is misleading, some gig workers say

One advocacy group, RideFair Coalition, which describes itself as a group of individuals and organizations advocating for "fair" regulations for ride-hailing, said Monday's announcement was misleading and merely subsidizes companies that rely on gig work, leaving workers "permanently overworked and underpaid."

"The province's proposal falls short of addressing gig workers' real needs and sets a dangerous precedent," the group said in a news release. "The Ford government's proposal means that a ride-hailing driver, on average, will have to work 13.3 hours to make an 8-hour day's wage."

According to a recent City of Toronto update to its 2019 vehicle-for-hire impact report, drivers spend about 40 per cent of their time waiting for a trip, 48 percent driving a passenger and about 12 per cent en-route to a pickup or waiting for a passenger at pick-up.

Brice Sopher, the vice president of the app-based couriers' union Gig Workers United, agrees the announcement does the opposite of what Ford and McNaughton claim to do.

By using active hours or engaged time as a metric to pay workers, Sopher, who is a food courier, says the new measure only maintains the unequal power dynamic between companies and their employees.

Brice Sopher does delivery work for UberEats and is vice-president of the group Gig Workers United. (CBC)

"That eliminates pretty much 50 per cent of my work," says Sopher. "And that's saying I only deserve to be paid for 50 per cent of what I'm working for."

Sopher says the provincial government needs to listen to what he says workers have been advocating for for years, and classify them as full employees and not independent contractors.

"If [these companies] are allowed to pick what rights are important, and what they think workers should have, then what's stopping other companies from doing it as well?"

New bill doesn't address employee status 

Monday's announcement comes after Ford's government increased minimum wage to $15 an hour in January, a move that excluded gig workers. 

In October 2021, many gig workers put pressure on the province to grant them basic workers' rights by classifying them as employees

The new act does not address employee status. But the government has made a series of other changes to improve workers' rights, many of which were recommended by an expert committee, tasked by the province late last year with addressing labour disruptions from the pandemic.

The Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee prompted the province to start developing a "portable benefits" system for workers who don't have health, dental or vision coverage, with the package intended to move with the individuals if they change jobs.

The expert group also recommended that the government force greater transparency in gig work contracts and create a "dependent contractor" category for app-based gig workers that would guarantee employment rights like severance pay.

McNaughton says changes like these are crucial if the province hopes to keep up with the way technology app-based jobs have changed how people work.

"We want to lift up those workers across the province," he said.