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Precarious Employment does not have to be our fate

Just-in-Time Jobs: Getting by in a world of part-time, contract and precarious work
CBC Town Hall discussion on Precarious Employment
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Glen Gould Studio

What is ‘precarious employment’? Matt Galloway started the CBC Town Hall event by asking the panelists to define it. Each member had a different definition: lack of job security, no benefits, increase in stress and losing confidence in yourself but also a more positive take on this new economy, the creation of “Me, Inc”. However, the most poignant definition of precarious employment came from an audience member who said, “It means you have no life.” Work comes first - you have to take the hours you can get, be always ready on short notice and change your plans to accommodate a work shift.

The cost of precarious work goes beyond the personal and societal economics, it affects our health, our mental health our community participation and our quality of life. This foresees a very different society than the one we live in currently, one where unstable jobs are the norm and people scramble to piece together enough hours to cover their most basic expenses.

Traditionally, it is lower income positions that are the most precarious (contract, part-time, no benefits and no job security). However, we are seeing a clear increase in job precarity of middle income and professional positions. It is no longer an issue faced only by those working for temporary agencies.

The recent strike action by University of Toronto and York University contract staff is the perfect example – they are fighting for job security and the changes in faculty as professors retire and universities are not maintaining tenured positions. Stable, full time positions are being replaced by less secure part time contracts. A significant shift in how our universities value their faculty members.

We do not have to accept this as our fate. The panelists discussed several successful innovative programs from around the world including:

• the more precarious the employment is, the higher premium employers must pay
• have drug and dental plans NOT tied to an employer
• we can demand decent jobs and security when we are offering tax and job subsidies to employers, and
• groundbreaking employment laws in Denmark that offer 2 years of employment insurance and guaranteed re-training when someone leaves, changes or loses their job.

One panelist noted, ‘we cannot rely on the free-market’ to fix our labour market – it can only be fixed by strengthening our systems - and at the front of this fight are our unions who are advocating for better jobs, stronger laws and fairer policies.

WoodGreen has been participating in these conversations about the changing labour market through several research projects over the past couple of years. As a partner in the PEPSO (Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario) research group, we collaborate on a working group that has published several reports on employment precarity. ‘Poverty is not a new issue in our communities; however the combination of low pay and new forms of insecure employment may be having effects beyond the workplace….’

Also, as a partner in the Toronto South Local Immigration Partnership, WoodGreen supports a workgroup looking at some of these wider systemic issues and has published research on the topic. Shadow Economies: Economic Survival Strategies of Toronto Immigrant Communities explores how immigrants are not only blocked from working in their skilled professions, but are working in jobs that don’t even meet provincial standards.

Even now, WoodGreen is setting up a partnership with other Toronto agencies and unions in the human services field, to replicate a project done New York City agencies looking at the working conditions of those in the sector.

So what does the future hold? Panelists predicted that jobs will be more secure, more flexible, but with a better, stronger social safety net. Yes, maybe so, but only if we plan it that way.

Sandra Guerra is Partnership Coordinator for the Toronto South Local Immigration Partnership.

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December 15, 2014, Toronto: The WoodGreen Community Services Board of Directors is pleased to announce the appointment of Anne Babcock to the position of President & CEO effective January 1, 2015.

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