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The Future of App-Based Work in Canada

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Platforms like Uber have always extolled the virtues of providing flexible earning opportunities to rideshare drivers and delivery people. The COVID-19 pandemic truly put that claim to the test, disrupting economies and labour markets worldwide and here in Canada. So as Canadians struggled with reduced hours and layoffs, did platform work help fill that gap, and what does the future of app-based work look like?

Uber’s SVP of Mobility, Canadian Andrew Macdonald, shares what he has learned from the experiences of drivers and delivery people throughout the pandemic, the future of platform work in Canada and why Uber is doubling down on supporting flexibility for workers.

What is your role at Uber?

I oversee Uber’s ridesharing operations across the globe, and a large part of this role is understanding the needs of the drivers in the cities in which we operate. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to lead a roundtable with Canadian drivers and delivery people to hear their experiences on the platform during the pandemic as well as any feedback they had for us at Uber.

What did Canadian drivers have to say?

Overwhelmingly, they were worried about their families from both a health and financial-security perspective. A few of them had experienced reduced hours or unemployment, so they turned to rideshare and delivery apps to help support them throughout the pandemic. Having this option available was a great relief. And they weren’t alone. Recent research from Accenture indicates that platform work was a financial safety net during COVID-19 in Canada. The data shows that delivery sign-ups followed the unemployment rate, giving people alternative opportunities to access work.

Are drivers on Uber happy as independent contractors?

We talk to drivers constantly and we know that they choose this type of work because of the flexibility and independence it provides. They can easily log off if they need to get home to care for a family member or go to a last-minute appointment and not have to ask a boss for permission. They can work a few hours a week or a few hours a month to make ends meet, pay for an unexpected expense or contribute toward their tuition, retirement or other personal goals.

In fact, based on our research, 85 per cent of drivers tell us they need the flexibility the independent-contractor model provides. For drivers and delivery people, flexibility means they can choose when, where and how much they want to work. This is critical since 74 per cent have other key responsibilities to balance, whether it be a full-time job, caregiving responsibilities or studies.

So flexibility is paramount. But at the same time, drivers and delivery people deserve more benefits and protections–that’s why we rolled out our Flexible Work+ proposal earlier this year.

What is Flexible Work+?

The status quo is no longer good enough. For decades, work has been defined by a binary choice: employee or contractor. We believe that choice is outdated and does not reflect the nature of work today. Our proposal offers the best of both worlds. It’s providing drivers and delivery people new benefits and protections while still keeping the flexibility they value and need. Our proposal, Flexible Work+, would require the industry to provide a portable benefits fund that can be used for a range of purposes, including health and dental benefits, life insurance, RRSP contributions and educational expenditures. Our goal is to work with provinces to implement the best plan to support drivers.

Would this self-directed benefits fund protect drivers the same way that employee benefits would?

In our research, we found that many drivers have partial or full benefits from another job, a spouse or another program. Ninety-four per cent of workers support the idea of a flexible benefits spending account, so we wanted to create a program for drivers to self-direct their benefits based on their own needs. For this to happen, provincial governments would require the industry to create and manage a fund for delivery and rideshare app-based platforms. Based on time worked across all the platforms, workers would accrue benefits that they then direct to their desired benefits.

Now that the proposal has been introduced, what comes next?

We want to continue to support flexible work, and we stand ready to work with government, industry and stakeholders to make this happen. Canada’s recent Impact Report by Public First found that in 2020, drivers earned an additional $216 million a year in higher income through Uber than their next best alternative. We think that Uber and other platforms can be a bridge to a sustainable economic recovery, and by working together, we can make app-based work safer and more beneficial for workers.

Given how we’ve all adapted over the past year, it couldn’t be a more relevant time to have this conversation. The pandemic brought to light the value and convenience of flexible work. More and more people are now prioritizing flexibility as an important consideration for their careers and lives. I find this shift to be particularly interesting. Businesses around the world are adapting their working models to offer more flexibility, and we want to continue to support flexibility with our app-based work.

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