So far, the Canadian government has responded to the needs of various populations that are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students, seniors, traditional workers, and other groups have received some sort of financial and social relief. However, gig workers are in a unique position where they don’t fall under any category and are struggling to get the financial relief they need during this challenging time.
The issues for gig workers runs deeper than the COVID-19 pandemic as there were pre-existing problems that are now heightened. Fortunately, for those who don’t qualify for help from the government, there are other options available.
Who Are Gig Workers?
Gig workers are people who earn income through means other than traditional employer-employee relationships. Freelancers, independent contractors, temporary workers, artists, on-call workers, musicians, and contract workers are alternative terms for gig workers or gig professions. Gig workers often operate on a short term or project basis.
Gig Works Are More Vulnerable To Financial Distress
While gig workers benefit from employment independence, they are more at risk of financial distress. There are a few reasons why, as listed below.
- Low Income. Gig workers tend to make much less money than those who hold traditional jobs. In addition, they’re usually required to pay a higher tax bill on the money they earn because their employer is not deducting income tax on their behalf.
- No Benefits. Due to the nature of the work that gig workers perform, they often do not receive benefits such as health or E.I. When in financial distress, gig workers are at risk of medical and well-being distress too.
- Less Employer Commitment. Gig workers rarely have an employment contract and if they do, it’s often defined on a very short term. For this reason, employers can hire and dismiss gig workers with little to no consequences.
- Multiple Sources of Income. In order to stay afloat, gig workers often have multiple sources of income. If they lose one or more of these income sources, it can cause financial distress.
COVID-19 Crisis Reveals Glaring Problem In The Gig Economy
More and more people are engaging in gig work which has created somewhat of a “gig economy”. While it’s great that gig workers have more opportunities and can sustain themselves, the pitfall is they don’t have access to benefit plans or pension. This is an issue for the social infrastructure in Canada because there’s a divide between traditional and non-traditional workers.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has shed light on this issue which has previously been overlooked. Gig workers are struggling to make enough money to support themselves as a result of the pandemic and may not qualify for government financial support. The financial distress of COVID-19 heightens the problem of a lack of benefits as well.
An ideal solution to the problem would be a portable benefits system. A portable benefits system would provide benefits and pension to gig workers who don’t receive these perks from their employers. Gig workers would still be able to maintain independence and flexibility because the plan would be tied to them individually, not their employer.
While the idea of a portable benefits system is fantastic, there are always administrative issues to consider. Unfortunately, a portable benefits system would have to be paid for in some way, likely by the employer. Employers never like increased costs. However, if employers could understand that a portable benefits system could make their employees healthier, less financially stressed, and more relaxed, they would be more likely to get behind the idea.
The Problem With CERB And EI For Gig Workers
In addition to benefits and pension, gig workers often don’t qualify for EI or other similar government programs. In fact, gig workers are struggling to qualify for CERB payments because the program was not designed for non-traditional workers.
In theory, those who don’t qualify for CERB should be able to support themselves, however, that isn’t necessarily the case for gig workers. They’re suffering from lost income, but not enough lost income that they qualify. Gig workers will likely suffer for a longer period of time due to COVID-19, such as musicians and actors because their work is already volatile.
Many gig workers have actually forfeited work to receive CERB payments because they’ll earn more money this way. From a financial standpoint, this makes sense, but it hurts the careers of gig workers and could have a lasting impact.
To give you an idea of the complications, let’s look at an example. Let’s say Sarah works 20 hours a week and earns $500 a week. This means she earns $2,000 in a month which is the same as the monthly CERB payment. It can be argued that it makes more sense for Sarah to turn down her gig work and accept the CERB payment because she’ll earn the same amount of money and not put herself at risk.
Alternative Sources Of Financial Help For Gig Workers
The Canadian government has provided financial support for those who qualify through the Economic Response Plan. Although, there are others who are providing financial relief during the COVID-19 crisis for gig workers.
- Canadian Cinema Worker Fund. A fund created to support cinema workers who will not be compensated by their employer during the pandemic.
- The Photographer Fund. A small fund for self-employed photographers facing hardship.
- The AFC. Emergency funding for entertainment professionals.
- Canadian Low Income Artists and Musicians Relief Fund. Relief fund for artists and musicians.
- Music Together. A $300,000 emergency relief fund for Ontario musicians has been created by the provincial government and other members within the music community. Musicians can apply for a $1,000 one time payment which is tied to a live stream.
- CBC Creative Relief Fund. A fund that provides instant relief to Canadian creators. The fund is currently worth $2 million and will provide funding for development and production for a diverse range of creators.
- CBC and Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals. A $1 million fund that helps artists shift their work online. The maximum is $5,000 of funding per project and you could have the opportunity to be showcased by CBC and Radio-Canada.
- Toronto Arts Council. The Toronto Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Foundation have created the TOArtist COVID Response Fund to respond to the pandemic. The fund will provide $1,000 to self-employed, solo artists that are a resident of Toronto and have suffered in their career as a result of the crisis.
- Behind the Scenes Basic Needs Grants. Financial assistance for entertainment technology professionals that are suffering from an illness.
- Unison. Emergency funding for musicians.
- Ownr. A fund that will provide up to $1,000 for each successful applicant to help support Canadian entrepreneurs.
- Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund. The Writer’s Trust of Canada and The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) put together the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund to support professional writers who are financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grants are worth $1,500 for eligible writers.
- Woodcock Fund Grant. Emergency funding for writers amidst a project.
- Emergency Survival Fund. Provided by Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto and is meant for LGBTQ2S artists, performers and tip-based workers.
- City of Windsor Arts, Culture and Heritage Fund. This fund offers $60,000 worth of grant money to support local artists in the Windsor community who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- GTA Black Community Emergency Support Fund. Community fundraiser organized by artists for black people in the Greater Toronto Area, especially those working within the gig economy.
Temporary & Remote Work Opportunities
- Canadian Art in Isolation. A website that matches Toronto based artists with seniors to provide artwork that will be displayed in their bedrooms.
- Resources for Remote Work. Job postings listed in a Google doc that can be performed remotely.
- 25+ Sites for Finding Remote Work. List of resources where you might find remote work.
There may be other resources and job opportunities available in addition to this list. If you’re looking for relief or work, do some research to see what’s available.