Pandemic meets precarity in China . . .
In China, gig workers’ precarious situation reached a tipping point in January when an Ele.me food delivery worker set himself on fire protesting unpaid wages. Since then, Beijing and the province of Zhejiang have both released draft proposals that seek to address social security gaps by creating a retirement fund specifically for gig workers. The experimental fund would be run through public-private partnerships with commercial insurance companies. The proposed fund offers additional flexibility, requiring only a five-year contribution for workers to be eligible for retirement funds, compared with 15 years through the state fund.
Support gaps for gig workers . . .
In China, the number of gig workers increased by 56 per cent between 2015 and 2019. But despite having formed the bedrock of the initial COVID-19 fight, it is estimated that more than 60 per cent of delivery drivers in China do not have access to social security. The rise in app-based gig platforms in Southeast Asia has also led the region to become a freelancing hotspot. For example, over half of Vietnam’s and Indonesia’s working population are self-employed. As the pandemic helped accelerate the gig economy’s rise, support gaps for these workers are receiving attention worldwide. California’s Proposition 22, which allowed gig platforms to reclassify workers as “contractors” instead of employees, has provoked debate around the role of government and technology platforms in providing benefits to gig workers.
Canada’s Future of Work . . .
In Canada, Uber launched its “Flexible Work+” proposal last week. It asks provinces to require all app-based employers to provide self-directed benefits to workers, with the funds available for items like retirement, health care and education. Uber claims the portable benefits scheme offers flexibility and security to its contractors, while others argue it distracts from problems around fair pay. In either case, Canada’s social security system remains primarily based on the relic of employer-provided benefits. This has been partially addressed in the interim by the Canada Recovery Benefit, which provides income support to self-employed workers affected by the pandemic. However, as workforce transformations carry on at full speed, now is the time to plan long-term for the gig economy.