Secondary unrest, self-employed and personal support workers among Canadians feel the pinch in gas prices
Everything seems to get more expensive. Food, gas and housing prices are on the rise, while paychecks are slow to keep pace. CBC News’ Priced Out series explains why you pay more at checkout and how Canadians cope with the high cost of everything.
Alissa Sauder works full time, but a few years ago she started driving for Uber to earn some extra cash.
During the pandemic, she started driving for Amazon Flex while also switching to Uber Eats.
But in recent weeks, her hustle wasn’t really worth it, she said. With the lifting of pandemic restrictions, fewer people are ordering food delivery. Rising gasoline prices are also eating away at its bottom line.
“You earn less because there are fewer people and you earn less because you spend a lot on gas,” she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.
During the past week, it has not made any deliveries. She said she would reconsider if she noticed a weekend seemed busy or if there was an event that would entice more people to order food.
Canadians are paying more at the pumps as Russia’s attack on Ukraine puts additional pressure on a backdrop of soaring oil prices. Rising gasoline prices are being blamed on strong demand for oil combined with a shortage of supply, and this has been happening for weeks.
Gasoline prices in Waterloo Region ranged between $1.75 per liter and $1.89 per liter on Friday, according to the GasBuddy.com website. That’s been up since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when prices were between $1.03 and $1.05 per litre.
Brittany Bailey is a freelance housekeeper and office cleaner in Cambridge, Ontario, but she’s had to work a full-time job to make ends meet.
Bailey said the current economy means fewer people can afford to bring in a cleaner, and higher gas prices mean she has to raise her rates if they live more than a few miles away.
“I made my prices as competitive as possible,” Bailey said. “I’m definitely worried about my business because I just want to help as many people as possible. But of course I have to charge.”
Regarding the price of gas, she said, “I’m just swallowing the price right now and hoping the prices and everything will come down.”
“More Than Gas”
Nearby Nathan Whalen, CEO of a larger company called Summerhill Clean also operating out of Cambridge, said that before the recent spike in petrol prices he was looking to transition his fleet of vehicles to hybrid or electric.
Now, its employees use apps to find the cheapest gas as they move between customers during the day. The cleaners are also working in a smaller radius than a few weeks ago, which means they are serving fewer people.
“We’ve had to really start thinking differently about how we’re going to operate,” Whalen said. “Unfortunately we are just eating this extra cost [of gas] and we’re trying to save money in different ways, so either through supplies or by reducing certain hours…it has to come from somewhere.”
Whalen noted that it was not just about the recent price increase spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices have been on the rise for several years, with the exception of a slight reprieve in 2020.
“The price of gas has gone up so much over the last year that we now have to change our prices and probably pass that on to customers. We are really working not to do that.”
In addition, he said, the employer’s share of Canada Pension Plan contributions has increased, as has Ontario’s minimum wage. In addition, cleaning products cost more. All of this puts pressure on small business owners, he said.
“It’s more than gas,” Whalen said.
“I think a lot of companies, just like ours, wait as long as humanly possible before passing costs directly to customers,” he added. “We all want to be careful about planning for the next six months to a year and really think about our budgets to make sure we take it and plan for that inflation. Because it’s not just about gas and that. is probably here to stay a little longer.”
Impact on home care workers
Businesses are not the only ones to suffer from rising gas prices. Personal support workers who come to clients’ homes every day are also affected.
Miranda Ferrier is the Executive Director of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association and the Canadian Association of Support Workers. The Canadian association recently wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking the federal government to postpone a carbon tax increase scheduled for April 1.
Some personal support workers are reimbursed by their employer for mileage, especially those who work for the public sector. But not all do, Ferrier said.
Additionally, those who get mileage must first pay for gas out of pocket and then be reimbursed about 30 to 35 cents per mile, an “incredibly laughable” rate, Ferrier said.
She said the cost of travel is straining a workforce that already feels underappreciated during the pandemic.
“We don’t have enough [PSWs] how it works in home care, and now because of gas prices, we’re seeing a lot of them leaving the field faster because they just can’t afford gas and earn a living wage,” she said.
“The majority of people who become PSSPs do it because they care, because your life is worth it, right? They want to make a difference,” Ferrier said.
“But if they can’t afford to pay their mortgage, their rent or their bills, or pay for their children’s meals, they have to find work elsewhere.”