A refugee’s job choices in Canada are limited due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with the country and various family situations. Refugees often work as Uber drivers, pizza delivery people, at restaurants and in construction. They face low pay, high risk and many other challenges that could be avoided if our society showed a little more empathy.
As someone who has worked in pizza delivery, at a factory, at restaurants and in construction since coming to Canada in 2016, I have an idea about all of these jobs. When I was working in the pizza shop, almost all of the drivers were refugees, students and newly arrived immigrants.
Because my daughters were in Turkey at the time, it was easy for me to work regular hours. But when they joined me in Toronto (my eldest daughter arrived in 2018, and my younger daughter at the end of 2019), I was no longer able to keep a regular job, as they were both under 12 years old. I had no one to take care of them. So, for the last two years I’ve been an Uber driver.
I do Uber Eats deliveries from the moment I drop them off at school until the school day ends. Since my eldest daughter is now 12, I can sometimes work an additional hour or two in the evenings.
I do it seven days a week. Now I can say that besides being a journalist, I have a job as an Uber driver. Uber drivers are also my colleagues.
A newcomer’s job
Being an Uber driver is a job that can be done easily in a new country if you don’t speak the language. I don’t carry passengers, I carry food. While delivering food, I can listen to the radio and make phone calls easily.
The comfort of being an Uber driver is that you’re your own boss. You can work whenever you want, as long as you want. You are learning about the city. I think these are the aspects that attract most Uber drivers to this job.
But this is where advantages end. Refugees often borrow cars to do this job, and they usually buy their vehicles in installments, so they must not exceed a certain mileage. They have to do this job because they have no other choice.
The driver’s earnings start at $3-5 dollars per order, and it takes a minimum of six to seven hours of driving to earn $100 or $150. This can be tiring for a driver.
Uber provides only limited coverage in case of an accident, and doesn’t accept responsibility for a traffic ticket. On top of that, if the car gets damaged in an accident, Uber drivers can’t go back to work the next day and are left with no income. Some may be underinsured and not have the money to get their vehicles repaired. That’s why the biggest risk in this business is to have an accident.
“Bring it to the door, or I will report you to Uber”
As an Uber driver in Toronto, I have experienced a number of difficulties of my own. Sometimes I take orders to deliver to downtown locations. It is really tiring and scary to take orders to downtown Toronto or other busy streets.
Many people ask for their food to be delivered to their doorstep even though they know there is no parking lot in front of their building. They typically send a message via the Uber app that reads something like: “Drop it in front of the apartment, and don’t ring the bell.”
Since I usually can’t find a parking spot downtown, I put my car in a place I can see and switch on the hazard lights. Then I take the order and go, say, to the 42nd floor of a skyscraper, and when I return, there may be a minimum parking ticket of $50 on the window of my vehicle.
Uber doesn’t care about this; their attitude is take it or leave it.
On the other hand, the officers who write the parking ticket must know that the vehicle can’t have been there for more than three or four minutes, because they can see the Uber logo on the front and the hazard lights flashing. But they still issue the fine. I lose $50 at the place I go to earn $3.
Whenever there is no parking lot, I call customers and ask them to come to the lobby of the building and collect their orders. Many people refuse, but one went further once. “All Uber drivers do this. Bring it to the door, or I will report you to Uber,” he snapped.
As Uber drivers, we don’t have an obligation to bring food to anyone’s door anyway due to the COVID-19 measures. We can leave the order in the lobby of the building and leave. However, this comes with a risk. When a customer complains, your score in Uber’s rating system drops, and people may stop placing orders with you.
If you get a parking ticket multiple times, your car insurance goes up the next year. The financial situation of Uber drivers is clear enough, so customers could really show some understanding toward the working class. Uber is already using the drivers’ desperation to its advantage.
Another incident that happened to me a few times was a customer claiming they did not receive the order, even though I had delivered it to their door. Since there is a photo-taking feature in the application, such bad experiences have taught me to try to fit the address or door number into the shot of the delivered order as evidence.
Rideshare drivers also face issues with customers. For example, passengers want to go off the route indicated by Uber, they expect the driver to carry their bags, or they arrive late to the point where they are supposed to meet the driver.
A Toronto Uber driver’s wishlist
As Uber drivers in Toronto, we are working hard to make money in the dead of winter and in the heat of summer. I think that the officers who give us parking tickets in front of buildings where we deliver orders for $3 should be merciful. At least five to 10 minutes could be tolerated.
Customers living in buildings with no parking space could offer to pick up their orders at the entrance of the building. That would reduce drivers’ risk and stress levels, especially since due to the pandemic we are not advised to bring the order to the door or use the elevator.
In many buildings, security does not allow us to use the elevator anyway, and sometimes we cannot reach the customer immediately when we call them on the phone. It can take five minutes for them to come down, even though they can see in the Uber app how long it will take us to reach their address.
A little understanding and empathy could solve many problems of Uber drivers in Toronto.
Arzu Yildiz graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University in TV Journalism Department and has worked as a journalist, editor and senior reporter. She has written critical pieces of investigative journalism about unresolved murder cases in the Southeast against Kurdish businessmen and illegal weapons supply to Syria. She has four books published and writes for New Canadian Media.