Precarious Employment: A New Work Reality?

Statistics Canada recently reported the unemployment rate as 5.9% the lowest in 9 years... That is the good news.

The bad news is that a significant amount of Ontarian's working seasonal, casual, and parttime jobs with little or no security and the quality of Canadian jobs continues to fall, while “precarious work” continues to rise.

Almost 44% of Canadians are in some form of precarious employment. Precarious Employment (PE) are non-standard forms of employment (temporary, on-call, shift work etc) with limited or no job security, rights and protections.

Rise of PE

Rise in temporary and part-time jobs

  • In 2012, one in seven Canadian wage workers (about 2 million) held temporary employment compared to one in ten in 1997 
  • In 2012, one in five Canadian wage workers (about 3.3 million) held part-time jobs compared to one in ten in 1976.; 1 in 3 part-time workers prefer to work full-time (Statistics Canada, Table 282-0014)
  • Temporary jobs are increasing 3 times faster than permanent jobs

Rise in ‘temp agencies’

  • According to Statistics Canada (2010), between 1993 and 2008, there was a 425% increase in Temporary Help Agencies.

A mere decade ago, the world of work looked very different. According to Forbes, workers currently stay in a job for an average of 4.4 years, a number that has been steadily declining for decades. In comparison, baby boomers were much more likely to stay at one job for the majority of their careers, and more than half of baby boomers stayed with an employer for more than two decades, including 18 per cent who reported 30 years or more with one employer.

But that is not the worst of it...

PE and Health

The disadvantage of precarious work goes beyond the instability, not knowing what you will be doing next month or six months from now, but the support programs aren't there. It puts a financial strain and emotional stress on households. 

A survey of 4,193 people and produced by United Way Toronto and McMaster University found that workers in precarious jobs are almost twice as likely to report worse mental health than those in secure positions. Nearly half of them say they often don't know their work schedules at least a week in advance. 

Impact of Precarious Work and Mental Health

Studies consistently link precarious employment to negative physical and mental health outcomes"

  • Precarious work can cause significant stress due to job insecurity, the pressure of holding multiple jobs, irregular or long hours, insecure visa status and lack of legal protections.

  • Precarious workers may also suffer health consequences as a result of their lower income.  Low wages also affect workers’ access to safe transportation and sufficiently nutritious food. Low pay often leads to working more than one job and long hours, which, in turn, increase susceptibility to illness and injury and have negative impacts on family life affecting children and communities.

  • Due to low wages and lack of benefits, precarious workers often have difficulty accessing medicine, particularly prescription drugs.

  • Pregnant women engaged in precarious work are often not covered by statutory personal emergency leave provisions and, with insufficient time off, may not obtain necessary medical care. 

  • Precarious workers have limited opportunities to access training or education allowing them to upgrade their skills. Without training, they are less likely to find more stable and better paid work. This contributes to long-term economic vulnerability and perpetuates the cycle of precarious work.

How can we fight precarious work? Here are some ideas to bring to the table: 

  • Wages sufficient to adequately support workers and their families.

  • Benefits for part-time workers (eg. full health care coverage).

  • Clear rules regarding hours of work, including maximizing hours (scheduled by seniority), limits on overtime, minimum call-in periods (at least 4 hours), and minimum notice of schedule changes.

  • Provisions to convert part-time or irregular jobs into permanent, full- time jobs. Limit the number or ratio of part-timers.

  • Health and safety training to ensure that everyone (including new or temporary workers) is safe.

I am reminded when politicians say "the best social program in this country is a job" that it is not the case anymore for many people and it is a trend that continues to grow.