OPINION: Easing the plight of precarious workers

Precarious employment is becoming more prevalent in Canada and especially in London. It’s a labour market shift that is putting financial strain and emotional stress on households.

On Oct. 17, the North East Community Conversations (NECC) held a gathering at Huron UniversitPrecarious-Workersy College called The People’s Forum on Eliminating Poverty.

NECC is an informal, intergenerational, grassroots, collective of London residents who are passionate about building healthy communities and promoting transformative change through respectful dialogue and shared thinking.

During the event, participants separated into breakout groups where they discussed various issues, one of which was of particular interest to me ­­— the topic of precarious employment.

What is precarious work? It’s non-standard employment that is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected, and cannot support a household.

Types of work associated with precarious employment are typically lower paying, with an income gap of between $11,600 and $18,000 in 2014 relative to jobs with less uncertainty.

Precarious employment is a serious issue, and clearly negative for the overall economy.

Similarly, the quality of available jobs has important implications for the well-being of Londoners and their prosperity.
The group was asked to identify five factors you would need to get a good quality job.

They listed the right qualification and experience (education) for the job. You need to have the necessary skills to do the job, maintain good health and have social capital for referrals.

The group also said sometimes public transportation is not available on certain routes which makes it difficult to commute to certain areas.

Let me give you a scenario: He’s a twenty-something with a university degree, working for a government agency on contract through a temporary employment agency. He does similar work to the other members of his team and reports to the same boss. The difference is that they get salaries, benefits, a collective agreement, and some measure of job security. He is paid only an hourly wage.

Compared to those in the secure cluster, people in the precarious cluster earn 46 percent less and report household incomes that are 34 percent lower. They rarely receive employment benefits beyond a basic wage.

Precarious workers are often paid in cash and are more likely not to get paid at all. They often don’t know their work schedule a week in advance and often have unexpected work schedule changes.

They have more weeks without work and are likely to anticipate future hour reductions.

They often hold more than one job at the same time and often had to pay for their own training.

Newcomers to Canada are more likely to be in precarious employment. That’s because newcomers are not Canadian-certified even though they are qualified and capable of doing their job.

Students can also fall into this category when they graduate from post-secondary institutions and are asked to have a minimum of three to five years of experience.

The percentage of the workforce in precarious employment in our local labour market has increased due to the loss of major full-time jobs. In the London area the number of people who describe their job as temporary has increased by 40 percent since 1997.

So what can we do?

The group stated we need to build a notion of diversity and vision through collaboration.

Some argued for a basic minimum income and teaching precarious workers financial literacy.

Others said we should support and provide incentives to the companies in our community who support precarious workers. We should invite the corporations to the table and ask them how we can collectively remove the barriers.
The group said that aside from offering ways to improve skills quickly, we should provide strong mentorship services as well.

Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of the London Institute. He is an entrepreneur, columnist, public speaker, and is currently specializing in Economics and Political Science at Western University.
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