Side hustle, self-employed and personal support workers among Canadians feeling gas price pinch

Kitchener-Waterloo·PRICED OUT

The higher fuel prices seen in recent weeks are impacting all Canadians, but particularly those who need to use their cars for work, such as delivery drivers, cleaners and personal support workers.

People who deliver food or clean houses and offices say higher gas prices are eating into how much they can earn.(Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)


Alissa Sauder works a full-time job, but a few years ago started to drive for Uber to make some extra cash on the side.

During the pandemic, she started driving for Amazon Flex while also switching to Uber Eats.

But in recent weeks, her side hustle hasn't really been worth it, she said. With pandemic restrictions lifted, not as many people are ordering food delivery. Higher gas prices are also eating into her bottom line.

"You're making less because it's less busy and you're making less because you're spending a lot on gas," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

In the past week, she hasn't done any delivery runs. She said she'd reconsider if she notices a weekend seems busy or if there's an event that would result in more people ordering food.

Alissa Sauder drives for Amazon Flex and Uber Eats part time, but says higher gas prices has made her reconsider those jobs.(Submitted by Alissa Sauder)

Canadians are paying more at the pumps as Russia's attack on Ukraine puts further pressure on a surging oil price environment. The rise in gas prices is being blamed on the high demand for oil combined with a shortage of supply, and that's been happening for weeks.

In Waterloo region on Friday, gas prices ranged from the low end of $1.75 per litre up to $1.89 per litre, the website GasBuddy.com showed. That's up from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 when prices were between $1.03 and $1.05 per litre.

Brittany Bailey is a self-employed house and office cleaner in Cambridge, Ont., but has had to take on a full-time job to help make ends meet.

Bailey said the current economy means fewer people can afford to have a cleaner come in, and higher gas prices means she has to raise her rates if they live more than a few kilometres away.

"I've made my pricing as competitive as possible," Bailey said. "I am definitely worried about my business because I just want to help as many people as I can. But of course, I have to charge."

As for the price of gas, she said, "I'm just swallowing the cost right now and hoping the prices and everything goes down."

'More than just the gas'

Nearby, Nathan Whalen, CEO of a larger company called Summerhill Clean that also operates from Cambridge, said that before the recent spike in gas prices, he was researching whether to switch his fleet of vehicles to hybrid or electric.

Now, his employees are using apps to find the cheapest gas while they travel between clients each day. Cleaners are also working in a smaller radius than they did a few weeks ago, which means they're serving fewer people.

The price at the pump of gasoline has gone up steadily over the past two years, with a steep climb in 2022, as reported by gasbuddy.com.(Gasbuddy.com)

"We've had to really start thinking differently about how we're going to operate," Whalen said. "Unfortunately, we are just eating that additional cost [of gas] and we are trying to save money in different ways, so either via supplies or cutting certain hours … it has to come from somewhere."

Whalen noted it's not just the recent increase in prices spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices have been on the rise for several years, except for a minor reprieve in 2020.

"The price of gas has gone up so much in the last year that we actually now have to change our pricing and likely pass that on to clients. We're really working to not do that."

Also added in, he said, is the employer portion of Canada Pension Plan premiums have risen and so, too, has Ontario's minimum wage. As well, cleaning products cost more. All of this is putting pressure on small business owners, he said.

"It's more than just the gas," Whalen said.

"I think a lot of businesses, just like ours, are holding off as long as humanly possible before passing the costs directly on to clients," he added. "We all want to just be cautious about planning for the next six months to a year and really thinking about our budgets to make sure that we're taking it and planning for that inflation. Because it's not just on the gas and it's likely here to stay for a little bit longer."

Impact on home-care PSWs

Businesses aren't the only ones walloped by higher gas prices. Personal support workers who drive to clients' homes each day are also being impacted.

Miranda Ferrier is chief executive officer of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association and Canadian Support Workers Association. The Canadian association recently wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask the federal government to postpone an increase to the fuel carbon tax planned for April 1.

Miranda Ferrier is the president of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association and Canadian Support Workers Association.(Supplied)

Some PSWs get reimbursed from their employers for mileage driven, particularly those who work for the public sector. But not all do, Ferrier said.

As well, those who do get mileage have to pay for the gas out of pocket first, and later get repaid about 30 to 35 cents per kilometre, a rate that is "incredibly laughable," Ferrier said.

She said the cost of getting around is putting a strain on a workforce already feeling under-appreciated during the pandemic.

"We don't have enough [PSWs] as it is working in home care, and now because of the gas prices, we're seeing a lot of that are leaving the field faster because they just can't afford to pay for gas and make a livable wage," she said.

"The majority of people that become PSWs do it because they care, because your life is worth it to them, right? They want to make a difference," Ferrier said.

"But if they can't afford to pay their mortgage, or their rent or their bills, or pay for their children to eat, they have to find work somewhere else."

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