Gig workers risk health to make ends meet in pricey Vancouver

Without limits on work hours, many over extend themselves to bring in the cash while they can



Fresh off of a work shift and sitting in a Dairy Queen parking lot around 1 a.m., Vicki Santos talked about her employment situation.

“I work at 10 places, two of them are seasonal,” Santos said.

She spends almost all her time at her various jobs.

Santos is part of an increasing number of people in Canada working in non-standard employment positions in Canada’s growing “gig economy.”

A March 2024 Statistics Canada report defined gig work as “paid work done on the basis of short-term tasks, projects, or jobs, which does not guarantee ongoing work, and where there is a need for the worker to play an active role in obtaining their next task, job or client.”

Gig jobs, but specifically food delivery and rideshare jobs such as DoorDash and Uber, have become increasingly common in recent years.

According to a December 2023 report from Statistics Canada, app-based ride service jobs have seen an increase of 48 per cent between 2022 and 2023. App-based delivery services have seen an almost 20 per cent increase in the same time frame.

Despite more people piecing together a living in the gig economy, workers have few protections.

There are no restrictions limiting the number of hours a gig worker can put in. For standard employment, anything over 40 hours a week is considered overtime with a cap of 48 hours weekly.

The lack of restrictions on non-standard work, paired with the ever-increasing cost of living, means there are many more people deciding to work long hours.

Santos, who is a stagehand or lighting technician for shows in most of her jobs, said her work hours tend to vary greatly.

Her seasonal jobs are “full days . . . about eight hours,” but the hours on her other jobs can be hard to keep track of, she told the Voice.

The most hours she’s worked in a week — split between three places — was 55. On one occasion, she was awake for 58 hours straight.

No protections for gig workers

Neither the Canadian Labour Code nor the B.C. Employment Standards Act safeguards for gig jobs, or anyone working in multiple places.

Last November, an amendment to the provincial act was passed to include “online platform workers” under the title of “employees” to afford them more protections in their jobs.

Robert Russo, a UBC professor and an expert on labour and employment law, said he believes this change will affect around 40,000 B.C. workers.

“It will apply whether or not that gig worker is an employee under any other law,” Russo said.

He said more legislative changes are needed to accommodate the growing gig economy.

“The Employment Standards Act isn’t really designed for that,” he said. “It’s designed for the one kind of 40 hour a week job, you know, or maybe a part time job that’s not quite 40 hours.”

Russo said that while the amendment is an improvement for gig workers, there are some issues with it as well.

“One of the limits of it is it doesn’t, it doesn’t allow for sick leave, provisions for them [online platform workers],” he said. “So they’re not really the same employees as normal standard employees under the act.”

Santos said that while she usually can take time off when she’s sick, she decides on a “job-by-job basis.”

“When it’s like a smaller kind of … show or like your role is very important or there’s nobody that can replace you, it’s kind of like a morality thing,” she said. “When I was a stage manager, being sick was not really an option.”

Long hours can have health impacts

Lieke ten Brummelhuis, an academic director and associate professor at SFU who specializes in workaholism and work-life balance, said one of the main things long work hours impacts is health, both mental and physical.

“That is one of the first things that happened that people just feel down, depressed, sad, frustrated, maybe even angry,” she said.

Brummelhuis also said that if a person doesn’t give their body time to recover, they are more likely to get sick.

“You might develop some minor infections, or maybe some back complaints … your body is just indicating ’I need a break’,” she said. “But at some point your body is going to say, ’it’s enough.’”

Santos said while she tries to keep track of her own health, it can be a struggle, especially when she’s regularly awake for 36 hours or more.

“Once you, like, stop working, you’re just like ’Oh no, my body gave up five hours ago’,” she said. “If you do push your body too far, I do find that [it’s] a lot easier to catch something.”

Santos said when her mind is kept preoccupied for extended periods, it’s even easy to forget essential things like food and water.

“There’s like, ’oh, it [the body] is just upset because I lifted up the heavy thing’, not ’oh, I haven’t eaten in like, 24 hours,’” she said.

Some gig workers feel they have few options

Brummelhuis said outside of the financial aspect of things, people may choose to work longer hours due to either internal or external pressures.

“They’ve gotten into a work style where they almost are addicted because they feel like there’s rush of energy and like adrenaline,” she said.

She said the more external aspect of the pressure can come from being constantly connected and reachable through devices.

Santos said there are multiple reasons why she does gig work, but the main one is the price of living in Metro Vancouver.

“There’s been periods of time where I’m just, like, broke as s**t,” Santos said. “Especially when I was coming out of school . . . like, ’oh, all of my money has gone into paying for school, into paying for my gas [and] feeding me every once in a while.’”

Another reason Santos started working long hours was the social aspect of the job. “You spend time with people who have the same interests as you, who have the same job as you,” she said.

“You can talk about work, and they can also talk about other jobs you have going on too.”

1 Comment
  1. April Leigh Shular says

    Interesting! Damn, I had no idea that it was so bad. . . But then the cost of everything goes through the roof.

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