When the pandemic hit, Deel decided to start delivering groceries to supplement the food delivery she was already doing. While unloading a Costco order during a winter storm in 2020, she slipped on black ice, sending a box skittering across the sidewalk. The customer watched her at the door, not offering to help. She apologized profusely, even though the goods were packaged and there was minimal damage, but the customer still left a negative review—bad enough for Deel to receive a notification that her overall rating had dipped.
She panicked: she knew a lower rating meant she was likely to see fewer orders, since contractors with the highest ratings get to choose the more lucrative jobs first, leaving behind the ones that pay poorly or are more difficult. Deel reached out to the app’s support team to explain what had happened, but there was no recourse for her to get the review scrubbed.
The incident also demonstrated the increasing physical toll of the job. Petite and in her mid-twenties, Deel knows she’s carrying heavier loads than she should. “When I get older I’m going to see the effects on my body of what I’m doing now, but it’s not my choice,” she says.
Trained as a civil engineer, Deel couldn’t find a job in her field when she moved to Canada from Syria through the U.S. in 2019. Most of the time, she didn’t even receive a response to her job applications; when she did, it was a flat-out rejection, citing her lack of “Canadian experience.” She couldn’t keep going without an income, so two months after she immigrated, she started delivery work through apps like DoorDash and Skip the Dishes. This meant Deel became an independent contractor, according to the terms laid out by those companies.
She delivers by car, so soaring gas prices have cut into her pay, and she’s unable to afford the commercial insurance technically required for the job. Not only does Deel take on all the costs of delivery, she takes on the risks — to her health, made especially harrowing by COVID, because she wasn’t covered by OHIP, and to her personal safety, due to constant inappropriate behaviour from male customers, who comment on her appearance and ask for her number. Nor can she count on pay for vacation and public holidays, parental leave, disability pay, and termination notice — as an independent contractor, she isn’t covered under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, the law that mandates those sorts of protections.
The rise of platform work has put a spotlight on gig work, but people running trips and deliveries for companies like Uber don’t comprise the entirety of the gig economy, which is made up of anyone engaged in what Statistics Canada calls “less structured and non-traditional work arrangements.” More specifically, gig workers are defined as those who aren’t employed long-term by a single organization: they’re typically unincorporated individuals paid to complete a discrete task or work for a limited time. Consultants, designers, artists, and tradespeople can all fall under this category — in fact, before the pandemic, when numbers were last available, one in 10 working Canadians were part of the gig economy.