Magazine article Canadian Dimension

It's about More Than Wages: The Social Impact of Precarious Employment

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

It's about More Than Wages: The Social Impact of Precarious Employment

Article excerpt

IN A RECENT CBC CALL-IN SHOW focusing on the changing nature of Canadian labour markets, callers in precarious employment were asked what they would do if they found permanent jobs. Their responses were indicative of the grave situation that a growing number of workers find themselves in when unable to find permanent full-time employment with benefits. Several reported that they would attend to long overdue health treatments for their children. Others would take all of their prescribed medications rather than partial doses. One person would upgrade from a bar fridge to a full-sized fridge. One even went as far as to suggest that this might allow the family to have a vacation! The callers were all precariously employed, working in one or more jobs and trying to piece together a somewhat permanent living wage. Some were in low-wage jobs but others were not.

In February 2014, the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) research group released a report titled It's More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being. The report, based on a population survey of over 4,000 individuals and a series of extensive interviews with precariously employed workers in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton labour market, provides a detailed picture of the changing nature of Canadian urban labour markets and the impact these changes are having on households and communities.

In the months following the release of It's More than Poverty, the term "precarious employment" has become part of the lexicon of the media as well as a growing number of politicians at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Hardly a day goes by without some reference in the media and in legislative halls to the growing employment insecurity of Canadians. We hear of the frustration of young workers unable to find decent-paying permanent employment or of middle-aged workers who have been displaced from secure full-time jobs and who can now only find poor-quality and less-stable temporary jobs. We hear from the parents of adult children who are living in the family basement and are unable to start meaningful work careers. All are fueling a growing sense of public unease and a sense that something is wrong with a labour market that amply rewards a few, but leaves the majority of Canadians facing growing employment and income insecurity, low wages and uncertain career paths.

It's More than Poverty documented the retreat from permanent full-time employment that fueled the post-1945 boom in the Canadian economy and led to an unprecedented growth in the standard of living of working Canadians. Barely half of the participants in our study had full-time jobs that they expected to keep for at least the next 12 months and that paid some benefits. This form of employment, known as a Standard Employment Relationship (SER), was the norm in many sectors in the 1970s and was dominant amongst white men. The other half of our sample was employed in jobs with varying degrees of insecurity. About 10 percent were in permanent part-time employment, jobs that rarely paid benefits and represented a heightened degree of insecurity relative to permanent full-time employment. Another 20 percent were in jobs that most would agree are precarious, including employment through temp agencies, short-term contracts or self-employment. Again, these are jobs that rarely provide benefits, are often low-wage and offer limited career prospects. The remaining 20 percent had jobs that on the surface looked like the SER but when examined more carefully were jobs that provided few benefits beyond a simple wage, and the holders were not confident that they would have them a year from now. The report confirmed what others have argued: precarious employment is becoming the new norm for a growing class of Canadian workers.

It's More than Poverty not only documented the prevalence of precarious employment, but also the extent to which it has become the norm in sectors and amongst socio-economic groups that in the past were insulated from this type of employment. …

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