Portable benefits only work for employers, not workers
Brief by the Workers Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services
The Ontario government launched a consultation and advisory panel in March 2022 to explore implementing a portable health benefits program1 for part-time, temporary, and self-employed workers. This may sound good on the surface, but not when you lift the veil on portable benefits and see the real dangers for us all. Making matters worse, there is no worker representation on the panel.
A portable benefits program is problematic because it would further entrench the creation of a substandard classification of workers without access to basic employment standards. This is particularly dangerous for workers who are being denied rights through misclassification, who are disproportionately low-wage, racialized and immigrants. Exploring portable benefits sidesteps rather than fundamentally addresses the root problem – workers need to be treated as employees and have access to protections under the Employment Standards Act.
As more and more employers misclassify workers as independent contractors, thereby denying workers their rights to basic employment protections, workers have been speaking up and fighting back. Proposals for portable benefits are part of a common playbook used by companies in the U.S. They say they will provide benefits, as long as they can keep avoiding the law and don’t have to treat their workers as employees.
App-based workers around the world are organizing against this corporate-imposed second-class status that denies them labour protections. They are standing up, overturning misclassification as independent contractors, and coming together to improve their working conditions. App-based workers successfully unionized in Norway in 2019. In other jurisdictions, employees successfully sought their employment rights through the courts -- California in 2018, France in 2020 and Netherlands, U.K. and Spain in 2021. Rather than fight it out in the courts, we are now seeing a new corporate strategy – find allies in government and offer portable benefits in exchange for laws that keep their workers outside of labour laws. 1It does not consider access to CPP, EI, WSIB or other protections under the ESA and does not consider retirement benefits for any workers.
Unfortunately, this playbook is coming to Ontario. In December 2021, the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee (OWRAC) was appointed by the government to supposedly look at the future of work. Many workers came forward to speak out about working with no labour rights, being injured on the job, and facing wage theft without any protection. Workers were united with one key demand: full employment rights for all. Instead of heeding this demand, the OWRAC made a series of recommendations, including portable benefits, that open the door to the “gigification” of the entire economy. If implemented, they would make it easier for employers to misclassify workers as “independent contractors” and exclude them from Ontario’s minimum labour standards.
We’ve already seen the passage of Bill 88 (so-called Working for Workers Act) entrench ride share and delivery workers as second-class employees without the right to be paid minimum wage for all their hours of work. Adopting a portable benefits plan will further entrench substandard conditions for gig workers.
What is the real problem?
We believe that low wage, temporary and self-employed workers need a decent work agenda with universal benefits, not portable benefits. Portable benefits do not get at the root problem of why so many workers don’t have benefits in the first place.
The most obvious reason so many people don’t have benefits is that successive provincial and federal governments have underfunded and restricted access to existing public benefit programs, such as OHIP, Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
In addition, we have seen a huge growth in employer practices that deny benefits for part-time, lowwage and temporary workers. For example, nurses working casual, part-time or through temp agencies are denied benefits while their full-time counterparts doing exactly the same work get benefits. Employers are able to treat workers this way because we have no rules requiring equal treatment between part-time, contract or temporary workers and full-time workers.
We need equal pay and benefits regardless of the designated classification of work by the employer to ensure part-time, contract, and temp agency workers get the same pay and benefits as their full-time counterparts.
The growth of precarious work has also been fueled by many workers being misclassified as independent contractors. Even when workers really are employees, being called an independent contractor means they are denied benefits and minimum entitlements under labour law, while being excluded from workers comp protections and contributions to EI and CPP. Misclassification is the result of employers flouting the law, poor labour rights enforcement, and a lack of legislative clarity that workers should be deemed employees unless the company can demonstrate that they are truly an independent business.
It is not just app-based workers that are denied benefits and employment rights. Misclassification is a long-standing employer practice to move the costs of business onto individual workers and to cut costs. Misclassification is rampant in the trucking sector, courier, and construction sector. It affects personal support workers who are being misclassified as independent contractors and then only being paid for in-home care work, not for their travel time between clients. Misclassification is happening in the business service sector where technicians who fix our photocopier machines or provide digital services are also being denied basic rights.
We need legislative clarity that misclassified workers are employees. This can be done with a presumption that workers are employees unless it can be proven by the hiring entity that they are really independent businesses unto their own according to the ABC test.2
What are the dangers of a portable benefit plan?
In exchange for support of portable benefits, companies want labour law reforms that prevent gig workers from being protected as employees. Enshrining portable benefits for misclassified workers and the self-employed further entrenches a category of workers with substandard rights and benefits. If this is allowed, more employers will try to misclassify their employees as independent contractors. A portable benefits program will also incentivize companies that do provide benefits to stop providing them to the lowest waged and most precarious workers, and instead suggest they opt into portable benefits. So even those 1 in 4 workers that currently receive company health benefits could stand to lose those benefits.
Racialized and immigrant workers who are predominantly in low-wage and precarious jobs will pay the highest price.3 We should not be developing policy that enshrines inequality, reinforces systemic racism, and deepens the failures of our labour laws and enforcement.
What do workers need?
The most efficient and effective approach to extending health benefits to part-time, temporary and selfemployed workers would be fully universal social programs, such as pharmacare and dental care. The universal nature of these programs means that workers, regardless of where they work, continue to have access to benefits throughout their work lives and during retirement.
What workers really need is a universal national drug, health and dental plan. We are already on the path to a national dental program. We need universal benefits for all. We need full access to labour rights for all.
Mark your calendars and tell everyone you know: the Justice for Workers Provincial Strategy Meeting is from Friday, February 24 to Sunday, February 26 in Toronto!
This in-person organizing meeting brings together workers from across the province to learn from one another and plan the next steps of the campaign.
Please RSVP now to let us know you're coming! We'll send out more information and a detailed schedule shortly.WHENFebruary 24, 2023 at 9:00amWHEREToronto Metropolitan University
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Denise Martins published WIPB Extended! But we need to keep fighting for 10 permanent paid sick days for all in Action Updates 2022-08-03 12:02:31 -0400
Thanks to you, we pushed Premier Doug Ford and Labour Minister Monte McNaughton to extend the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB). Although the WIPB is inadequate, this small step forward has resulted in real improvements for those of us with the fewest protections.Read more
Denise Martins published Minimum Wage vs. Regional Wage Model in Resources 2022-10-07 11:01:18 -0400
Denise Martins published 2022 Provincial Election Pledge in Election Tool Kit 2022-05-09 17:12:01 -0400
Polls show the majority of Ontarians support paid sick days, a $20 minimum wage, and decent work for all. For more than two years of the global pandemic, journalists and health authorities have recounted stories about how COVID disproportionately hit low-wage workers, and how workplaces have become hotspots for COVID outbreaks – with tragic consequences. It’s never been clearer that precarious work is a public health hazard.
Our elected representatives must play a leading role in supporting decent work. The Ontario Government must provide proper funding for the full implementation of a decent work agenda. All public services, institutions and not-for-profit agencies must be funded adequately to implement these decent work policies, without a loss in employment hours or reductions in services.
Supporting decent work for all also means making sure income supports for injured workers and those on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program are livable. COVID has shown us that we all need at least $500 per week in income to survive.
If elected, will you actively support this decent work agenda?
A $20 minimum wage
- Legislate a $20 minimum wage for all
- Protect and extend legislated annual wage adjustments so our wages keep up with rising prices
- End sub-minimum wage rates and remove all exemptions to the general minimum wage such as for students and farmworkers
- Guarantee a minimum number of hours of work each week
- Offer additional hours to existing workers before hiring new employees
- Provide work schedules two weeks in advance
10 Permanent, employer-paid sick days
- Legislate at least 10 employer-paid emergency leave days per year, plus an additional 14 paid days during public health outbreaks
- Oppose public subsidies for profitable corporations
- Stop employers from asking for sick notes to access paid sick days
Full and permanent immigration status for all
- Permanent residency status upon arrival for all new migrants, and
- Permanent residency status for all migrant and undocumented workers already here
Equal pay for equal work
- Legislate equal pay and benefits for equal work regardless of our status as part-time, contract or temporary workers
- Ensure equal pay and benefits regardless of gender, racialization and immigration status
- Make employers provide pay transparency in our workplaces so we can enforce equal pay and help fight racism and sexism
Laws that protect all of us
- Ensure migrant and undocumented workers can assert labour rights
- Expand the Employment Standards Act to include all workers by closing loopholes and ending exemptions
- Make companies who use temp agencies, franchises and/or subcontractors, fully responsible for their workers’ wages, working conditions and collective bargaining
- Protect us from unjust firing (wrongful dismissal)
Protections for gig workers & end misclassification
- Stop misclassifying gig workers (like Uber drivers) as independent contractors
- Repeal the new law that allows companies like Uber to deny gig workers their full rights under the Employment Standards Act
Real protections for temp agency workers
- Make companies financially responsible under WSIB for the death and injury of temp agency workers
- Ensure temp agency workers earn the same wages as directly-hired workers when we do the same work
- Require temp agency workers are hired directly by the client company after three months on assignment.
- And to protect temp agency workers from being fired before this deadline, the law must also require employers provide just cause (a good reason) for terminating the assignment if they bring in another temp agency worker to do the job
Make it easier to join – and keep – our unions
- We must have the right to join unions by signing cards
- We must be able to form unions across franchises and subcontractors.
- We must also be able to bargain across regions and sectors of work (broader-based bargaining)
- Protect us from losing our wages, benefits, and union coverage when a business is sold or when a new service provider gets the contract (stop contract flipping)
- Repeal Bill 124 that took away our right to free collective bargaining
Make employers follow the law
The Ontario Government must implement:
- More surprise workplace inspections
- Bigger fines when employers break the law
- Meaningful compensation for workers when employers violate our rights at work
- Real job protection for us when we stand up for our rights at work
Denise Martins published Order-In Action in Support Gig Workers: Order-in Days 2022-03-05 21:55:26 -0500167 registrationsAdd registration
Denise Martins published Support Gig Workers: Order-in Days in Take Action Now 2022-02-17 10:47:42 -0500
We need folks like you to help Gig Workers United reach more app-based workers. If you're ordering in, why not talk to the workers who deliver our food and help connect them to the fight for decent work? Register now to automatically receive links to Gig Workers United posters and information cards to share with your delivery worker!Read more
We need organizers like you to step up and help Gig Workers United reach out to more app-based workers. Family Day long weekend will present a unique opportunity to engage with app-based workers and extend the reach of our campaign for decent work to these frontline workers.
Register now and you will automatically receive resources like information cards you can share with your delivery worker about Gig Workers United!
Register for as many days as possible:
Friday, February 18, 2022
Saturday, February 19, 2022
Sunday, February 20, 2022
Monday, February 21, 2022
This Federal Election may have returned a Liberal minority government, but we won't allow it to return to the status quo. With the Liberal government pledging to take action on paid sick days within their first 100 days, we have a real opportunity to advance a decent work agenda.
It's time for 10 Paid Sick Days
Within 100 days of being elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to:
- Legislate 10 permanent, paid sick days for federally regulated workers
- Push provinces and territories to take action on legislating paid sick days
During the election, the NDP was the first federal political party to support 10 legislated paid sick days, and now that the Liberals are also championing this basic right, we can't let this opportunity go to waste. There are 85 days left for the government to make good on their promise, and we must hold them accountable.
Let's be clear: Paid sick days must be employer-paid
Profitable companies like Amazon, Walmart and Loblaws are refusing to provide paid sick days to their workers to protect their health. Instead, they are demanding public money be diverted from health care to subsidize their bottom line. We don’t need more corporate subsidies. We need wealthy corporations to pay their fair share with employer-paid sick days.
Employers misclassify workers as independent contractors to deny them basic rights like minimum wage, and overtime and vacation pay. Misclassification also allows app-based corporations to avoid paying their fair share to workers' Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan.
Right now, Premier Doug Ford is preparing to table legislation that will make it legal for corporations like Uber to classify gig workers as independent contractors. Any law that legalizes a new sub-category of “workers” will legalize inequality. We cannot allow further Uberization of our workplaces.
On October 7th - the World Day for Decent Work - we join with gig workers to demand:
- An end to the misclassification of gig workers as independent contractors
- Full and equal rights under Ontario's Employment Standards Act and the Canada Labour Code.
In Toronto, we'll gather at Queen’s Park at 8 am to tell our Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) that it’s time to fully protect gig-workers' rights -- including the right to join unions.
If you can’t make it to Queen’s Park on October 7, help amplify this message on social media using the hashtags #MakeGigWorkDecentWork and #Justice4Workers. Please also tag Labour Minister Monte McNaughton @MonteMcNaughton and Premier Doug Ford @FordNation.
Stop wage theft at Cargo County
Throughout the pandemic, too many truck drivers have been misclassified as independent contractors, and are dealing with wage theft, illegal deductions, and unsafe working conditions.
But courageous workers from Cargo County trucking company are organizing against these employment rights violations.
Join us on Wednesday, October 6 at 12:00 noon for a phone zap to demand Cargo County pay their workers, stop illegal deductions and implement safer workplace practices.
Organize with us this October
Join us on Tuesday, October 19 at 7:00 pm for our monthly organizing meeting co-hosted with the Ontario Federation of Labour. We'll have breakout groups to organize for: 10 employer-paid sick days; solidarity with gig-workers and ending misclassification; fixing Employment Insurance and extending the Canada Recovery Benefits; and more.
Wednesday, October 6 - 12:00 noon
ONTARIO: Phone ZAP to support Cargo County truck drivers
Thursday, October 7 - 8:00 am
We are joining forces with gig workers on October 7 to demand gig-work be decent work. In Toronto, we will be gathering for an action Queen’s Park at 8:00 am.
If you can't make it to Queen's Park, please amplify the message with #MakeGigWorkDecentWork and #Justice4Workers and tag Labour Minister Monte McNaughton @MonteMcNaughton and Premier Doug Ford @FordNation.
ONTARIO: Provincial Decent Work Organizing Meeting
Join us online for our monthly provincial organizing meeting co-hosted by the Ontario Federation of Labour. We'll have breakout groups that include organizing the fighting for paid sick days and ending misclassification of gig-workers.
Friday, October 22 - 5:00 pm
ETOBICOKE: Paid sick days and decent work outreach blitz
Islington TTC Station
Join us for an outreach blitz in Etobicoke. We’ll be leading on the urgent need for paid sick days in the next 85 days.
Sunday, October 24 - 11:00 am
BRAMPTON: Justice for Workers Organizing Meeting
Warehouse Workers’ Centre | 224 Rutherford Road South, Brampton
Join us to plan the fight for decent work in Brampton. We will be doing a short training on how to meet with elected representatives so that we can deliver the many signatures we are collecting on our petition for decent work.
Thursday, October 28 - 6:00 pm
DECENT WORK AND HEALTH NETWORK: Organizing Meeting
Paid sick days and decent work are fundamental health issues. Health providers are meeting on Thursday, October 28 to plan next steps in winning at least 10 permanent paid sick days federally and provincially. With Ford’s temporary paid sick day scheme set to expire at the end of 2021, the time to win paid sick days is now.
Thursday, November 4 - 6:00 pm
DURHAM REGION: Paid sick days phone ZAP!
With the 4th COVID wave peaking, it's urgent the Ontario government steps up to legislate paid sick days. From 6pm to 7pm on November 4th, we’ll be calling Durham Region elected officials to tell them we deserve at least 10 permanent, employer-paid sick days.
Saturday, November 6 - 12:00 noon
MILTON: Decent work planning meeting and outreach blitz
Milton Public Library (Main Branch) | 1010 Main Street East, Milton
We'll be meeting at 12 noon inside the Milton Public Library (Main Branch). Then we'll head out for a Decent Work outreach blitz at 1:00 pm.
Denise Martins donated 2022-11-18 10:05:53 -0500