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Image: iStock

Alliance report unites self-employed workers and solo-entrepreneurs

Self-employed people deserve access to Canada’s social safety net

March 21, 2024

2-minute read

About two years ago I agreed to work on building a broad coalition for the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC). It is the only chamber of commerce in Canada that focuses on women and it is feminist, intersectional and social justice oriented, much to my surprise.

Nancy Wilson, their CEO, explained that in attending Covid consultations with other chambers of commerce, she realized that the major chambers were not representing her members, most of whom are solo and small entrepreneurs. She asked me if I thought we could build a coalition with unions, artists and other self-employed people.

I thought it was worth a try and the result is the Economic Equity Alliance. The alliance is a coalition of groups including the Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor, the YWCA, the Black Business and Professional Association, the Canadian Arts Coalition and a variety of feminist entrepreneurship groups.

The alliance has released an important report that resulted from the last two years of working together. The Invisible Entrepreneur is a groundbreaking report that argues government neglect of self-employed workers and solo entrepreneurs has gone on for decades. They receive neither the benefits of workers nor the benefits of business owners even though they contribute significantly to the economy.

“The Alliance is breaking the myth that large Chambers of Commerce represent all types of enterprises. We believe that the work of the Alliance represents a new awareness of the invisibility of self-employed people in our social and economic safety nets and the need for them to have a voice,” the report states.

One of the interesting findings of the report is that equity-deserving groups are disproportionately represented in self-employment. These stats show that women and racialized people are less able to access capital to grow their business:

  • 10 per cent of the Canadian labour force are self-employed.
  • 80 per cent of women entrepreneurs are self-employed.
  • 50 per cent of Black and 68 per cent of Indigenous entrepreneurs are self-employed.
  • 25 per cent of all self-employed individuals are people of colour.

This is not a new issue, but governments of all stripes have ignored the problem. Quebec is the only province that provides parental leave to self-employed workers in their Quebec Parental Insurance Plan, QPIP, which allows self-employed workers to access parental leave.

In the rest of the country, parental leave is embedded in Employment Insurance (EI), which self-employed people don’t get. If they pay the employer and the employee contribution, they can get parental leave but almost no one we talked to knew that. In the endless consultations the Liberal government has held on EI over the past couple of years, the exclusion of the self-employed has been discussed but there has been no action, which is one reason the alliance is reporting today.

Part of the problem is that no one is representing this group to pressure government to make changes. One of the report’s recommendations is to fund a national summit on self-employment, where the coalition we are building can be greatly expanded and individual self-employed people can have more of a say and an opportunity to discuss together.

“Self-employment serves as a crucial avenue for individuals to pursue their innovative ideas, aspirations and livelihoods outside the realm of traditional employment. While it presents an opportunity and a privilege for some, for others, particularly those already marginalized by various factors such as intersecting identities, geographical location, and socio-economic context, self-employment is a necessity,” the report explains.

While gig workers have related issues, their main demand is to be treated as waged employees. The alliance supports this but doesn’t see it as a solution for most self-employed people.

While the alliance recommends several changes to federal policy and the need for more discussion among self-employed people, I think the most important achievement of the alliance is the actual identification of common ground between self-employed workers and solo entrepreneurs, neither one of whom have organizations to represent them to government.

The alliance has shown the common interests and now it’s up to the federal government to change some of its policies and to support further work in exploring the economic and social needs of the self-employed.

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