The president of the largest labour organization in British Columbia said it is unacceptable for a company like Uber to operate outside the existing workers compensation system following the attack on a company driver last month.
“It’s an erosion of the workplace and workers’ rights in this province,” Sussanne Skidmore, BC Federation of Labour president, said. “These (drivers) are workers, they work for the company, they go to work every day. They should be paid adequately, they should be protected while they are at work and Uber should not be able to opt out of the system that the majority of employers in this province are part of.”
Skidmore made these comments while standing outside the provincial legislature with Aman Sood, a 40-year-old immigrant originally from India, who came to Canada in 2019.
Sood, who hopes to bring his family from Bulgaria to Canada, suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder and right wrist after being attacked by a male fare on the morning of April 18 in Abbotsford.
Sood said he stopped the vehicle after the man had become verbally aggressive. After Sood had asked the man to leave, the man attacked from behind while still in the vehicle. The confrontation then continued outside.
Sood said the attack lasted three to five minutes. “I was strong…and I survived,” he said. “But if it could (have been) some other driver, maybe he (was going to) kill him. Better not wait for somebody to die.”
Police are investigating the case, but Sood said he has not heard from them after initially reporting the attack. He added he suffers from headaches and suspects that he suffered nerve damage to his injured shoulder because it is almost always numb.
Both Skidmore and Sood spoke to media before meeting with Minister of Labour Harry Bains to push for legislation that would change the classification of so-called gig workers like Sood working for app-based companies like Uber.
They are currently classified as contract workers and therefore outside the WCB system that covers most workers in B.C. It is not clear how many workers fall into Sood’s category, but their numbers are said to be in the tens of thousands and rising.
Skidmore said she would like to see changes in legislation as soon as possible.
“I understand that government moves at the pace that government moves,” she said. “But I think here in British Columbia, we have an opportunity to get this right and lead in this country … the sooner, the better. It’s unfortunate what happened to my friend here and it shouldn’t happen to workers ever, but at the very least, they should have some rights and protections if it does happen.”
Sood is currently unable to work and does not plan to work for Uber again. He has filed a compensation claim.
A former yoga instructor who has lived in 30 countries before coming to Canada, Sood said he never experienced something like this before. “This is the first country where I faced this kind of experience … and maybe there is going to be some solution from government.”
Bains said that his sympathy goes out to Sood. “Every worker who goes out to work deserves to come home safe and healthy at the end of their shift,” he said. “That didn’t happen this time, and anytime this happens I’m concerned.”
Bains said his government is looking into the larger issue of workers in the app-based industries following the release of a report in April, but did not publicly commit to legislation in the fall.
“We are looking at ways — how do we protect these workers, their health and safety, and number two, if they are injured and become ill at workplaces, what kind of protection (and) support is available to them,” Bains said.
He said more information will come forward in the future. He also signalled that government won’t shy away from taking on companies like Uber. “Regardless of who the employer is, our emphasis is always on the workers.”
Black Press Media has reached out to Uber for comment.