Could gig workers be up for sector-wide organizing?

B.C. Labour Relations Act amendments could include gig, remote workers: B.C. labour academic

Could gig workers be up for sector-wide organizing?

An independent panel has been appointed to review the B.C. Labour Relations Code (LRC) and make recommendations for potential amendments. According to one expert in the field, a sector-wide unionization of gig workers could be a possibility.

The Code is under review to help keep B.C.’s labour laws relevant to current workplace conditions and improve labour relations and collective bargaining rights, according to the government.

The Code governs labour relations between provincially regulated employers, their employees and trade unions. It creates and enforces the rules related to collective bargaining and other matters related to how employers and unions interact as well as how labour disputes are resolved.

While no specific topics have been identified, the panel invited public consultation from stakeholders; it announced in a letter Feb. 28 that the deadline for comment has been extended to March 22, 2024. Based on the submissions received, the Panel will submit recommendations for amendments to the government by June 30, 2024.

HRD spoke with Mark Thompson, Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources at U.B.C., about what he expects will likely be under review. Due to the relatively short timeline, he said, there will likely not be major amendments.

Gig workers a likely candidate for Labour Relations Code amendments

“I don't expect them to recommend any dramatic changes in the labour code,” Thompson said. “The thing that jumps off the page are the gig workers.”

Late last year, the B.C. government tabled Bill 48, or the Labour Statutes Amendment Act, which, if passed, will include delivery drivers and other app-based workers as employees under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Worker’s Compensation Act.

If passed, the increased rights for gig workers will include a minimum wage of 120% of B.C.’s minimum wage (currently $16.75) applied to engaged time only. The extra amount is meant to compensate for not being paid while waiting for calls.

Also, platforms would be required to top up workers’ pay if it does not equal out to at least minimum wage, and tips are not included. It would also make it illegal for companies to withhold tips or make deductions from tips.

“You have a category of workers which is fairly numerous now, who are operating under a platform rather than the conventional employment relationship,” Thompson said.

“The government's decided that these people should be covered under the basic protections of the Employment Standards Act, somehow, and the health and safety and insurance regulations of the Workers Compensation Act. … The government put the gig workers under these two statutes, in some fashion anyhow, but they didn't mention the labour code, and one would assume that's because they're waiting to see what recommendations they get from this committee. I would expect them to recommend some form of coverage for gig workers.”

New laws for gig workers only the first step, say some drivers

In December, some drivers expressed dissatisfaction with this rate, and called for a cap on the number of drivers on the road at one time. In a report by CBC, Inder Raj Gill, a representative of app-based workers, said that Bill 48 is only the first step in increasing rights for gig workers.

While organizing into a union wasn’t explicitly mentioned, Thompson expressed that it is likely that the Labour Relations Code review panel will receive comment from these groups.

“We know that there's at least some enthusiasm amongst these workers for collective representation,” Thompson said, citing the recent unionization of fast food workers in California.

“There's certainly enthusiasm in some quarters to have collective bargaining established for a sector. That gets tricky because defining what a sector should be, what the boundaries will be, is not easy.”

Possible Labour Relations Code amendments around remote work

Thompson also mentioned remote work as a possible topic up for consideration by the panel.

The mass movement of workers away from the traditional office format has caused disruption to work relationships, and tension around how to navigate bringing workers back to the office, with employers and employees at odds about the subject.

But the process of organizing a remote workforce is a complicated issue that has not been resolved yet, he said.

“You have a bunch of employees who say, ‘I want, we want to have a union,’ and some of them are sitting in Vancouver or Prince George or someplace like that, but they might have one person who's in Kelowna,” he explained.

“Is that person going to be included? Because there's a concept of community of interest and so forth, [but] they never see each other face to face. How do you manage that process, when people are scattered around?”

The review panel is accepting community suggestions in person and electronically. Details can be found at the Labour Relations Code Review 2024 website.

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