Workers with unstable jobs left behind by outdated social programs
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial – The federal Conservatives must push reform their social assistance programs to help the growing number of workers facing precarious employment.
Feb 26 2013
It’s been a long time since a full-time, permanent job for life was the norm for many people. But even with that reality, a new study showing that nearly half of working adults in the GTA have unstable employment without benefits or pensions is an eye-opener. It’s a surprise to see just how many are now affected by so-called “precarious” employment.
The report, co-authored by McMaster University and United Way Toronto, covers many facets of unstable employment. Some workers are truly insecure, with low-paying jobs and uncertain hours. Others, including many technology workers, earn middle-class incomes but move from one contract to the next with no long-term guarantees.
There’s no easy way back to the old days of life-long employment. Globalization and fundamental changes in workplaces and lifestyles makes that impossible. But the study does bring into focus some very real issues with social assistance programs that could ease the lives of many affected by insecure jobs.
Simply put, programs like Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan were created back in the days when employees received wrist watches for 40 years of service. Unemployment was considered a temporary misfortune, and big companies were expected to provide adequate pensions to be topped up by government cheques. Those programs have not adapted to the new, more “precarious” world.
For example, EI benefits have been pared back for many years, to the point where less than half of jobless workers now qualify for benefits (and only 40 per cent of those in Ontario). That leaves many in the unstable job category out of luck, since they likely won’t collect enough weeks of work to qualify.
Unless laid-off workers can quickly bounce into a new job, many may end up on welfare — but not until their savings are exhausted, as required by Ontario social assistance rules. It’s a bureaucratic mess.
These flawed social programs trap workers whose tenuous existence helps private sector companies focus on their bottom line. EI should provide a soft landing, during a job search, instead of pushing workers onto welfare.
Old age benefits are no better. Since unstable jobs rarely provide company pensions, many future retirees will subsist on their limited income from the Canada Pension Plan. That makes the drive to modernize the CPP and significantly boost pensions all the more urgent..
At the same time, jobs with no benefits usually have limited support for families raising young children — especially when parents have no control over shift work. A national child care program could ease their situation, but the federal Conservative government will have none of it.
As the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten reports, the study, called “It’s More Than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being,” is raising ideas for change. Suggestions include more flexible child care, reforms to pensions, and new insurance models “that could create more economic certainty for people in precarious employment.”
A symposium on the study raised numerous possibilities for change, with Premier Kathleen Wynne promising to work with employers and labour unions to stop further spread of these jobs. That will be difficult, but governments should at least modernized social programs to take account of the new reality of work.
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