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Precarious employment and well-being

March 7, 2013

A recent study conducted by McMaster University in Hamilton, United Way in Toronto and the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) found that precarious work leads to anxiety and stress, affects social relationships and diminishes community connections.

“Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-Being”is based on a PEPSO study of over 4,000 workers between the ages of 25 – 65 years, and over 80 interviews with workers in precarious employment living in the GTA and Hamilton area. Results for study participants were divided into secure and insecure employment using an Employment Precarity Index developed for this study.

Workers are defined as being in precarious employment if: they have no control over their work schedules; do not have access to benefits or training that are available to full-time permanent staff; are more likely to have more than one job; and work on-call. This has increasingly become the “new normal.”

Based on Stats Can data and the PEPSO study, findings reveal that at least 20 per cent of those working in Canada are in precarious forms of employment. This type of employment has increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last 20 years. Another 20 per cent are in employment relationships that share at least some of the characteristics of precarious employment. Nine per cent of workers are in some form of permanent insecure employment, meaning they do not have any benefits. The numbers of precariously employed are greatest among newcomers to Canada.

Further findings reveal that:

  • A significant number of those who describe themselves as being in permanent employment still have many of the employment characteristics of those in precarious employment.
  • Men and women are about equally likely to be in the secure and the precarious clusters
  • White people, people born in Canada, and immigrants who have been in Canada for 20 or more years are more likely to be in the secure cluster
  • New immigrants are mainly in the precarious cluster.
  • People working in the knowledge, service and manufacturing sectors are equally likely to be in the precarious cluster
  • People working in manufacturing are least likely to be in the secure cluster.
  • Most regions in the GTA-Hamilton area have a similar proportion of workers in the secure and the precarious clusters. Halton is the exception with a high proportion of workers in the secure cluster.

The report is divided into sections that identify findings in five specific areas, explaining why and how these findings affect workers’ ability to form and maintain family and community connections. For example, the report found that women in insecure employment are more likely to volunteer 20 or more hours a month than women in secure employment. On the other hand, men in secure employment and in high-income households are more likely than all other men to volunteer 20 or more hours a month. The report is interspersed with stories about the hardships of work precarity on workers and their families.

The sixth chapter is devoted to policy options that, if implemented, would improve worker well-being. For example, the Law Commission of Ontario suggested that programs are needed that will give employers more of an incentive to develop the skills of their precariously employed workers. A system of accreditation for skills learned on the job could make the precariously employed more employable. Safe and affordable housing is also identified as a component of a healthy labour market and provides more support for immigrant workers.

See, “It’s More Than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being” available on the United Way Torontowebsite.

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