Last week, Uber and Lyft drivers in the Lower Mainland held a protest outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery calling for fair pay, better working conditions and transparency from ride hailing corporations.
The gig economy in Canada is rapidly growing. According to recent data from Statistics Canada, there are currently 250,000 people working as rideshare delivery couriers in Canada, about 32,000 of which are working in Vancouver. Majority of them are male, landed immigrants, and since Uber and Lyft drivers are independent contractors, and don’t qualify as actual employees, they aren’t guaranteed a minimum wage, basic labour protections, or benefits.
5X Press spoke to five Uber and Lyft drivers working in the Lower Mainland who shared their experiences working with the companies over the years.
Kuljeet Singh started driving with Uber in March of 2020, just two months after it launched in the Lower Mainland. Since immigrating to Canada, he’s worked in a factory, and managed a gas station, but turned to Uber for more flexibility. At the time, he said, it was good money, and the freedom meant he was able to take his elderly father to the hospital for check-ups and other appointments. If he worked nine to ten hours in a day, Singh said he was able to take a decent living home.
But in the past few years, with the cost of living rapidly increasing and no guarantee on how much money a driver will make in an hour, Singh said he’s taking home less and less money and Uber should be doing more to offset the costs.
“My life is getting harder and harder and I’m paying too much for flexibility. I don’t have dental, I don’t have any benefits or security.”
“Everything has gone up, right? Mortgages are going up, interest rates, car payments, groceries. Why are they not increasing pay?” he said.
Lack of support prompts drivers to crowdsource solutions
On each ride, Uber takes a 25% cut of what is charged to the rider. According to Uber, this accounts for the use of Uber software and infrastructure, collection and transfer of fares, credit card commissions and more. However, multiple drivers noted that they have to front an additional two dollar booking fee per ride to the driver which isn’t included in the 25% Uber takes.
Arvind Singh, who started driving with Uber during the pandemic, said that he often notices discrepancies in how much he’s getting paid. Sometimes this happens multiple times in a day.
“It’s super tedious to check every single ride. But if there are mistakes, that’s money that we miss out on.”
Moreover, drivers cited limited pathways for support when it comes to managing issues with their accounts. Despite a relatively clear driving record and overall high ratings, sources claimed that one low review could mean their accounts abruptly deactivated, sometimes for weeks on end. In the laytime, drivers turn to other apps like Skip the Dishes and DoorDash to make money.
When trying to reach out to Uber’s phone support line or Lyft’s text-only line, drivers said they’re left waiting for hours on end and often told there’s nothing they can do. They also said that the one in-person office that Uber does have, which is located in Surrey, doesn’t accommodate account disputes. Lyft’s office, which was located in Richmond, has now closed.
Singh said Uber needs to be more transparent about why drivers are being locked out of their accounts, and give drivers the opportunity to share their side of the story.
In the meantime, with the companies’ support channels failing to adequately address their concerns, drivers are filling the gaps themselves with a WhatsApp group of over 550 people. Here, drivers crowdsource solutions to day-to-day problems that arise, offering help where they can.
"We try give suggestions based on what has happened to us. But really it is the company's job to resolve this."
‘At some point, we have to fight’
Karan Aujla, previously a truck driver, was planning to get a new truck and starting work with a new company. When he struggled to find a used one, and a new truck was too expensive, he picked up with Uber because it was a lower-barrier option for work. Overall, Aujla shared that there are many benefits to driving with Uber—according to him, it has far more earning potential than driving a taxi and he has the flexibility to drive in any region and pick his own hours.
Aujla said it’s important that more people know what’s going on, and that this simmering support be translated into a more unified, organized effort across various communities. He also said more drivers should document their experiences and that Uber and Lyft should provide a legitimate space for them to voice their concerns.
“We need to spread the information about what we’re going through to more people. There are Uber drivers of all races, we all need to unite. Things only happen when we all work together,” he said.
With the gig economy rapidly growing in Canada, the BC government has failed to step in and provide regulative support to drivers and other food courier workers.
The BC Federation of Labour, which represents over 500,000 members from unions across the province, argues that gig workers should qualify as employees and be provided with basic protections like a minimum wage and the right to unionize.
In a written statement to 5X Press, BC Federation of Labour president Sussanne Skidmore expressed support for the protestors.
“These drivers are right to be angry. And their demonstration underlines just how bad the imbalance is between platform companies like Uber and Lyft and the people they employ."
"The companies talk all about 'flexibility,' but really it’s about them holding all the cards — everything from how much you get paid at a given time of day, to who gets suspended and when they’re allowed back on,” she said.
“Just because they manage their workers through an app, doesn’t mean they don’t have to meet the same standards of respect and decency any other employer has to. It’s time every worker got the full protection of BC’s employment rules, from wages and overtime to severance and benefits.”
Singh shared that he came to Canada in search of a better life with more opportunities. But his experience in the last few years has eroded his confidence in our system. And while other drivers have thought about quitting, Singh is rooted in his commitment to fight for what he and others in the city deserve.
“Some drivers have said, 'Leave it. Let’s find other jobs.’ But if we don’t stand up for ourselves here, what will we do in our next job if someone mistreats us? And what happens if the same thing happens in the job after that? If we accept defeat, there’s no solution in that,” he said.
“At some point, we have to fight.”
About the author
Jeevan SanghaMore by Jeevan Sangha
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