Ride-hailing app drivers in Metro Vancouver continue to take to social media and the streets to advocate for better working conditions, transparency and more effective day-to-day support from companies like Uber and Lyft.
Since covering this story in March, 5X Press followed up with Uber drivers in the city and to see if things have changed.
Following their protest outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery in late February drivers shared their struggles to make ends meet, low wages, pay inconsistencies on the Uber app, and frustrations with seeking timely support through call centers and in-app text lines. Most of the drivers interviewed had immigrated from Punjab within the last decade and have relied on Uber’s flexible hours to accommodate their busy schedules. Drivers have noted that the ride-hailing app’s wages have not increased in tandem with the cost of living, making it challenging to provide for themselves and their families.
In a written statement to 5X Press, Uber Canada says earnings in BC remain high for drivers. “In the last four weeks, the median driver in Vancouver is earning $36.91 per hour for engaged time.”
However, drivers say that an hour of engaged time isn’t always easy to earn.
“There's a lot of time we're actually not on the road constantly earning, even when we’ve clocked in to work. There's lots of dry spells where you do a trip and end up waiting around seven minutes for another trip, then another 15 minutes for another. And it's not uncommon at all,” said Arvin Singh. “If you're working during the day, when it's rush hour, the next trip isn't too far but it takes forever because of traffic.”
Drivers are looking to be recognized as employees, rather than independent contractors. This step is crucial in ensuring that drivers are covered under BC’s Employment Standards Act protections. In late April, conversations around protecting gig workers intensified after Uber driver Aman Sood was attacked while completing a short trip in Abbotsford. Shortly after receiving a rejection for compensation, Sood told The Tyee he bought a ticket back home to India because he could no longer afford to stay in Canada.
Other drivers say their situation has remained relatively unchanged, despite calls for company support and legislation in the province.
“Not a lot has changed in the past couple months. But our local MPs are hearing the concerns and grievances of the drivers. They're hoping that there will be legislation and laws which are more fair towards the drivers,” said Singh, an Uber driver.
Uber Canada told 5X Press that they understand unresolved issues can be a frustrating experience, and they are “always looking for ways to improve.” It’s why Uber partnered up with United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to jointly advocate to the government for a package of industry-wide reforms including a minimum earnings standard of 120% minimum wage for engaged time, health and safety protections, and the right to collective bargaining. A part of this partnership also means that Uber drivers can reach out to UFCW for support in resolving a range of work-related issues, including app deactivation at no cost to them.
“In the first year of this agreement with UFCW, over 700 drivers and delivery people accessed representation and over 200 of them had regained access to their account or resolved another account-related issue,” Uber said.
Karanvir Aujla says that he received a troubling message from Uber Support after requesting multiple changes to his fares. The message suggested that his account may be permanently deactivated if he continued to request changes on individual rides.
"It’s always hard to comment on experiences a specific driver has because, as I mentioned, there are many factors that play a role in earnings like time of day, demand in the area, etc. If drivers see a discrepancy in their pay, that is concerning, and we ask them to reach out to Uber Support," Uber said when it comes to individual account suspensions and deactivations.
Feeling unheard, drivers like Aujla have turned to closely reviewing discrepancies in the Uber driver agreements over the past few years and have said it has made them critical of Uber’s partnership with UFCW.
“It seems like something they chose for their own public image,” said another anonymous driver. “I’ve tried accessing support when my account got abruptly deactivated and it was a slow process. Who’s helping us in the meantime? How am I supposed to make money?”
These issues highlight bigger questions about the future of gig work in the province. Late last year, the BC Ministry of Labour initiated public engagement with ride-hail and food delivery workers, companies, labour organizations, academics and more to propose employment standards for gig workers. Among the top concerns is low and unpredictable pay.
In a February interview, Kuljeet Singh expressed his frustration with low earnings. “Sometimes when the business is slow. In eight hours, I have earnings like 50 dollars all day. How we are we going to manage those things?” In this process some ride hailing companies opposed granting drivers employee status as it would interfere with the flexibility that so many people rely on.
Getting drivers the support they need is a long and complex process. Gig work is relatively new and defining its role in the Canadian economy will be instrumental for the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.
“As much as we blame Uber, laws and legislations need to be changed as well. We’ve talked to MPs and the BC Federation of Labour, and they’ve definitely gone the extra mile. But it all comes down to the laws,” Singh said.
Many Uber drivers in the Lower Mainland are still feeling frustrated and have emphasized the need for increased support in the short-term while legislation is formed and passed. In the meantime, drivers in the Lower Mainland are continuing to band together to crowdsource solutions and ensure their grievances are heard. The drivers are planning another protest in Surrey on Scott Road and 72nd avenue this Saturday to raise awareness about their situation.
“We came to Canada expecting a better life, and we haven’t been able to experience that yet,” Aujla said. “If we are living in our country like this, we can fight for our rights.”
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