Maybe it’s just me, but since 2015 swung around, I have noticed a surge of reports on the poor quality of jobs that are being created in our economy. It’s no surprise to my colleagues and me, who, almost daily, meet people who are struggling to make ends meet, while often working in multiple low pay, unstable jobs. The Workers’ Action Centre tell us that this phenomenon, often called “precarious work”, is more common than we think:
Today, one in three jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract, part time or self employed. Working in these jobs, we are often denied basic protections and rights – for example, public holiday pay, access to employment insurance, much less pay than permanent workers doing the same jobs, adequate health & safety coverage.”
These low paid, insecure jobs are found in all sectors, from general labour, to banking, retail, journalism, administration and anywhere else where people are hired as temps, relief, contract workers or freelancers. The worst pay and most precarious jobs often go to women, youth and immigrants, working long unpredictable poorly paid hours, often with families support.
Toronto’s United Way reported in February this year that income inequality in the city is growing faster than in other major Canadian cities, with a 31 percent growth in the last 25 years. The report found that Torontonians express pessimism about the benefits of hard work, with almost three-quarters reporting that hard work doesn’t necessary lead to success, and that many residents experience unequal opportunities, believing that their background and circumstances (including race, gender, and household income growing up), impact on their chances for a good financial future.
Recently, the CIBC released their Canadian Employment Quality Index, which showed a decline in the quality of jobs on all their measures, including full vs part-time and pay. In terms of the distribution of part- vs full-time jobs, the report showed that since the late 1980s there has been a steady rise in part-time positions, although this did improve a little in the last year. The report also noted a drop in pay levels , with “The number of low-paying full-time jobs has risen faster than the number of mid-paying jobs, which in turn, has risen faster than the number of high-paying jobs” and a widening in that gap, over the past year.
In response to these trends, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne recently announced a formal review of the province’s labour and employment standards, to consider changes to the Employment Standards and Ontario Labour Relations Acts, so to better protect people in precarious work.
This may include addressing issues such as:
- minimum wage
- public holiday pay
- pay levels for temporary and part-time workers
- paid sick days
- union rights
- temp agency workers’ rights
- wage theft
Rights and Resources
Probably my favourite source of information about the rights of workers in precarious jobs is the Worker’s Action Centre, who describe themselves as a “worker-based organization committed to improving the lives and working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment”. In addition to their advocacy work, they also offer a very useful annual publication called Your Rights at Work. Workers who are seeking advice can also call them at (416) 531-0778 for support with workplace issues.
Another excellent source of information is CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario), who provide detailed and informative information to people in a range of languages. Their Employment and Work section includes a number of publications that would be useful for precarious workers.