Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

'Low-Skilled' Work in Canada

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

'Low-Skilled' Work in Canada

Article excerpt


In an unfavourable economic climate for job creation and renewed growth, Western governments are pursuing labour market reform in order to adjust to new constraints, particularly budgetary, imposed by the current crisis. In the context of a fight against working poverty and precarity (1), a number of countries have adopted reforms to improve labor market participation. An example is the French Active Solidarity Income (RSA or Revenu de solidarity active). This is a form of social welfare, introduced in 2009 and aimed at low-waged workers, providing them with a wage complement in order encourage job activity. Among the categories targeted by such initiatives, we find workers designated low skilled. The latter represent a major concern for policy makers who are faced with rising income inequalities as well as growing inequalities in terms of access to employment. However, the deteriorating situation of 'unskilled' workers does not translate the same way in all countries. It seems that labour market institutions, particularly their rigidity or flexibility, determine the shape of these inequalities.

In Canada, public policies favour relatively high levels of labour market flexibility, based on a low minimum wage and unemployment insurance less generous than in Europe. Unemployment protection is relatively lenient to employers, measuring 0.75 against an OECD average of 2, on the OECD's six-point scale of strictness of employment protection legislation. (2) At an average of 7 per cent, the Canadian unemployment rate remained relatively low and below the OECD average during the period 2000-2011. In 2011, the Canadian unemployment rate was 7.1 per cent against 8.9 in the United States, 7.8 in the United Kingdom and 9.3 per cent in France (OECD 2012). However, during the same period, wage inequalities have increased in Canada. According to a report by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada on indicators of well-being, workers with a college degree had salaries nearly double those with a high school diploma. This gap has been estimated at more than 24,000 dollars (HRSDC 2007).

In this context, it is important to draw up a portrait of the situation of low skilled workers in Canada. Using data from the Labor Force Survey conducted by Statistics Canada, we will try to answer a variety of questions relative to this category of workers. For example, are they more affected than other workers by the recent growth in the country's unemployment rate? What types of jobs do they tend to occupy? Do they tend to work more in full time or in part-time jobs?

In the Canadian labour market, one in three workers is classed as low-skilled, a classification based on lack of formal post-school qualifications. In 2010, this demographic category suffered an unemployment rate (13 per cent) almost double that of workers with formal qualifications. In addition, there was also an overrepresentation of part-time job holders among these workers (25 per cent). One low-skilled worker in four worked part-time, against one in six for skilled workers (workers with qualifications). We will also throughout this article focus on the situation of women. The latter remain among most vulnerable categories on the labour market of most OECD countries. In Canada, according to the Labour Force Survey, they accounted for 63 per cent of all low-skilled part-time workers in 2010.

Before analysing these figures in greater it is useful to reflect on the content of qualifications. To better understand this concept, we present, in the first section, some multidisciplinary disciplinary views on the subject.

1. How Do We Define Unskilled or Low-Skilled Labour?

Distinguishing jobs by qualification is, in practice, difficult to carry out. There is no real consensus in this regard.

1.1 Qualitative Approach

The notion of skill tends to be defined in two ways. The first, which focuses on the qualities of individuals and of jobs, is called qualitative. …

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