This is what job insecurity looks like in Ontario and what can be done about it

Today nearly one million workers juggle two or more jobs and over two million suffer the uncertainty of temporary employment – the highest number ever recorded in Canada.

These findings in United Way’s report, The Precarity Penalty, cast doubt on notions of employment wellbeing by underscoring the growing uncertainty and instability eroding prosperity in the province.

During the past decade, over 550,000 manufacturing workers have been laid off.

The study was based on 4,193 surveys conducted in 2014 and 28 interviews done in early 2015. Less than half of those asked reported having a permanent, full-time job with benefits beyond wage according to the report.

In its narrowest sense, precarious employment is defined as work which is temporary, casual, or seasonal. According to Stats Canada 11 per cent of workers landed within these parameters in 2014.

A broader understanding of the term includes those who are self-employed without any employees – contractors and freelancers for example. This category has almost doubled since 1976 and now represents 1 in 10 workers in Canada according to the report.

Employment that is secure, that provides a full range of benefits and that has a possible career path is generally viewed as better employment, and it is often referred to as a Standard Employment Relationship.

Looking at the graph above from data compiled for the report, standard employment (full-time) has fallen in all measured areas of Ontario except Halton and York Regions between 2011 and 2014.  It tumbled the farthest, 6.4 per cent, in Hamilton.

Conversely temporary and contract (precarious) work has risen in most areas. Here again, the change was most pronounced in Hamilton: 4.6 per cent.

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • Workers in less secure, low-income employment are the least likely to have access to any sort of training. This may trap some workers in poverty-wage jobs that do not pay a living wage.
  • Access to childcare is a major barrier, limiting access to good employment and limiting the ability of both parents to work for pay.
  • Racialized workers and foreign-born workers face significant discrimination in finding secure, high-paying employment.

The situation is even less encouraging for visible minorities. Between 2011 and 2014 the number of precariously employed rose sharply by 8.2 per cent, from 27.1 to 35.3 per cent, for racialized workers, but actually fell for non-visible minorities.

The reverse trend was true for the securely employed: The number of non-visible minorities benefiting from full-time, stable work rose between 2011 and 2014, but fell for visible minorities.

I say, ‘But I can’t afford it.’ Sometimes, they offer to buy for me, but then I just say, ‘Can we go somewhere cheaper?’ And they understand. . . . I sometimes feel pretty isolated. I try not to think about it, but it’s hard because, sometimes, I’m waking up crying in the middle of the night. (survey participant)

Though the most immediate and acute impacts of precarious labour are borne by the individual, the wider fallout affects society more generally.

According to the report, the precariously employed are less likely to vote. Men with unstable work are more likely to delay marriage and rent rather than purchase a home. It’s believed the latter results in weaker attachments to the community because congested with the worries of shelter and the necessities of life, people simply don’t care as much.

Increased income has a strong positive effect on the level of community participation.

More concerning still is that it appears people are just giving up. Labour market participation rates have been falling. “Workers with fewer educational credentials are simply dropping out of the labour force, a trend most pronounced for young men with limited formal education,” said Tom Zizys, Metcalf Foundation Fellow at the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity.

The United Way has come up with a number of recommendations to address the problem:

  • All sectors need to prioritize training and ensure that training is embedded within a workforce-development strategy that connects with real employment opportunities and that meets the unique needs of workers in precarious employment.
  • Governments should explore how to improve access to government-provided training and how to better support access to employer-provided training for those in insecure employment.
  • All sectors need to give more consideration to career-laddering opportunities for workers in precarious employment, as part of new workforce-development strategies that include attention to skills accreditation.
  • All sectors should assess how they can contribute in the effort to build awareness of discrimination within the labour market – not only in hiring, but also in retaining and advancing qualified workers who are racialized, women and/or immigrants.
  • The provincial government should include the examination of systemic barriers – of race, gender and immigration discrimination – in their employment and labour standards review, employment services and training review, and wage-gap strategy.
  • The provincial government and employers are urged to consider the amount of notice given to workers regarding their shifts.
  • The provincial government should accelerate implementation of its commitment to expand access to prescription drug benefits for low-income Ontarians.
  • The federal government could address the needs of parents in precarious employment by exploring parental-leave options that better align Employment Insurance with today’s labour market.

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