Contractors must understand the implications of being self-employed

The emerging gig economy—consisting of a labour market characterized by short-term, freelance contracts, rather than permanent jobs—influences consumer habits and employer practices. For independent contractors, it offers alternatives to a diverse demographic by offering extra money on a flexible schedule.

A SkipTheDishes spokesperson says that independently contracted couriers “come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The flexible schedule is particularly attractive to students and people looking to earn additional money in the off-hours from their regular employment.”

Toni O’Brien, a local Uber driver, is a busy mom who is driving for extra money. After only 12 shifts, she says she likes “the experiences, and meeting all the wonderful people.” She beams and says, “I’m pretty proud of my five-star rating. I didn’t expect to be making as much money as I have. But I’ve done my due diligence and research to learn how to make more money.”

Uber drivers and riders are subject to the surge, which affects fares according to demand. | Toni O’Brien

As with most things, there is an art to doing well in the gig economy. With Uber, there is a factor called the “surge”, where the fare adjusts according to demand. O’Brien and her customers can check current fares on the Uber app. In theory, O’Brien makes more money when demand is high. However, she has learned “not to chase the surge.” She explains she has learned more about what is going on in the city, so that she can be more strategic. “I know now that I can stay at home and watch the hockey game.” When it ends, she drives to the game. That way, she misses the first wave of riders, when there are more drivers available (and thus lower fares), and arrives when drivers are in higher demand.

The surge contrasts with traditional taxi services, which have flat rates.

It’s important for contractors to do their due diligence. Once approved, the new Skip independent contractor “undergoes a brief on-boarding process. Skip doesn’t provide training, but does have teams available to provide support and assistance.”

Platforms such as SkipTheDishes and Uber do not pay benefits or guarantee work, since they are not employers. The SkipTheDishes spokesperson points out, “Independently contracted couriers are responsible for obtaining the necessary insurance required by the province or region that they drive in. Just as in any self-employed role, independently contracted couriers are responsible for managing the tax requirements specific to the province they operate in.”

SkipTheDishes will not necessarily inform couriers of their responsibilities to manage tax considerations or to obtain proper insurance. If you ask about these issues, Skip will outline your obligations as an independent contractor. However, they are not obligated to be specific. They follow the law, but the law has not adapted to the emerging gig economy.

According to O’Brien, Uber has more stringent requirements, where independent contractors must provide a driver’s abstract and proof of appropriate commercial insurance. Each platform has its own policies.

There is no regulation for the gig economy per se, so it’s important to understand the implications of being self-employed. Platforms are not obligated to inform independent contractors of their responsibilities (or of the many advantages) as, essentially, small business owners.

Enjoy the benefits of the gig economy, but follow O’Brien’s advice: “You have to learn.”

Featured Image: Toni O’Brien is proud of her success as an Uber driver. | Justin McConnell