Uber drivers excluded from Critical Worker Benefit

Uber user: Alex Wang calls a Uber driver to pick him up on a rainy afternoon on Centre Street on Friday, July 2, 2021. Wang uses the Uber app around three times every week. (Photo by Sugege Du/The Press)

The Government Alberta still doesn’t think Uber drivers are essential workers.

The Alberta government released the Critical Worker Benefit in February 2021 to recognize the risks that Alberta essential workers have taken to support Albertans and the economy.

Under the program, eligible Albertans can receive a one-time payment of $1,200.

After more than 289,800 Albertans received this benefit, the Alberta government expanded the eligibility for the Critical Workers Benefit this month.

The government says social services and private sector workers who provided critical services such as product delivery or worked in high-risk environments with a high chance of being exposed to COVID-19 are included in the new criteria.

Transport truck drivers, delivery and courier services drivers are eligible for the benefit, as are taxi drivers.

Chauffeurs and drivers of ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft are not.

But even as many Albertans benefited from the Critical Worker Benefit, the eligibility criteria, particularly as it continues to exclude Uber drivers, is being questioned.

“It is not fair,” said Abdirizak Aden, who has worked as an Uber driver in Calgary for the past three years. “We do the same job as taxi drivers, sometimes even more.”

Aden has worked as an Uber driver throughout the 16 months of the pandemic.

“We drive people to point A to point B, we use our cars, and we even pay for our gas,” he said. “The government should consider about Uber drivers in the future.”

It’s evidently considered taxi drivers, at least this time around.

“Members of the taxi industry are thankful to the Alberta government for recognizing taxi drivers as front-line service providers and offering support through the Critical Worker Benefit,” said Naeem Chaudry, President of Calgary City Cabs.

Joseph Shi, a 23-year-old Calgarian who used the Uber App to go to the grocery store often last year, says Uber drivers helped him a lot during the pandemic.

“I was really worried about taking public transits, so Uber became my only choice when I wanted to go to the grocery stores,” he said. “I did not think about taking a taxi instead of Uber, like I did not use a taxi for years.”

Shi thinks the exclusion of Uber drivers from the benefit is not acceptable. Uber drivers did not have the same number of customers during the pandemic as usual, and there are no extra jobs or risks that taxi drivers undertook and Uber drivers did not, he says.

“I am not sure what kind of workers are included in this program, but Uber drivers definitely should be one of those,” Shi said.

“I am not sure what kind of workers are included in this program, but Uber drivers definitely should be one of those,” Shi said.

According to the Government of Alberta, about 289,800 workers have received a total of about $367 million under the program so far. The program benefited about 277,800 workers in the health care, social services, education and private sectors in its first phase.

Workers in new job categories will be eligible for the same $1,200 payment.

It remains to be seen if eligibility will be expanded in the future.