Feature

Precarious Work: The New Reality

Vivian McCaffrey

If you’re like me, you may be waiting impatiently for the economic pendulum to swing back to a time when skilled workers could count on stable employment and a comfortable standard of living. According to a number of recent reports, however, we’re in the midst of a new economic reality, the dominant feature of which is “precarious work.”

Economists use the term precarious to describe workers who are in an unstable employment position, have limited control over working conditions and wages, and lack union protection or clear regulations governing their workplace. A 2012 Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) report estimates that 22 percent of jobs fit the “precarious” definition. Those most adversely affected include women, youth, racialized persons, persons with disabilities, and newcomers. Precarious work used to refer primarily to lower-income individuals, but a 2013 McMaster University– United Way study based on the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area shows that the phenomenon increasingly affects all income and education levels. The many ETFO occasional teacher members looking for permanent work but forced, in many cases, to wait years for that opportunity are a good case in point.

Ontario's Regained Jobs Lost During Recent Recession
The federal and provincial governments proudly point to statistics indicating that the jobs lost during the 2007–2008 recession have been replaced. According to Statistics Canada, the country lost 431,000 jobs during that economic crisis but regained 463,000 jobs during the recovery period between January 2011 and February 2013. What the politicians don’t draw to our attention is that the largest share of those new jobs, about 11 percent, are low-paid jobs in the accommodation and food services sectors. The hardest hit sectors for permanent job loss were manufacturing and utilities. The economic downturns in the 1980s and 1990s were more severe and prolonged, but the recent recession resulted in a bigger restructuring of the labour market.

Increase In Number Of Vulnerable Workers
Canada has joined the rest of the world in experiencing an increase in part-time and temporary workers. The LCO report points out that between 2001 and 2011, the rate of part-time workers in Canada increased from 18.1 to 19.9 percent while the rate of temporary workers grew from 12.8 to 13.8 percent.

Young people who increasingly feel compelled to take on unpaid internships as their only opportunity to gain work experience are at the bottom of this vulnerable list. Employment lawyer Andrew Langille estimates that, across Canada, young people are engaged in over 300,000 illegal unpaid internships, doing work that is of direct benefit to the employer and not simply gaining “pre-employment” experience. They are not only forgoing salary for their labour, but also the opportunity to pay into Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. Overall, these part-time,

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