Precarious employment a full-blown crisis

Posted on June 17, 2015 in Policy Context – Opinion/Editorial – The Spectator’s View
Jun 16, 2015.

To a large degree, Ontario’s vaunted economic recovery is a sham. Why? Because it is built on the shifting sands of employment security. You can’t have legitimate, meaningful recovery without decent job creation and half-decent jobs. We don’t have that.

A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives lays out the problem in grim terms. The size of Ontario’s low-wage workforce has skyrocketed by 94 per cent over the last 20 years. Compare that to the total employment growth figure of 30 per cent. The number of people working for minimum wage — which consigns workers to poverty — is five times higher now than it was in 1997. It was 3 per cent then and now stands at 12 per cent and growing. One third of the workforce is working for within $4 an hour of minimum wage — that’s barely a living wage in Hamilton, which is $14.95 an hour.

But wait, you might say: Many workers earning minimum wage are young people working part-time, and that’s been the case for a long time. True, but only to a point. Although half of minimum-wage earners are young people, the majority of those earning under $15 per hour are 25 years old or older.

It’s not all about money. It’s also about lifestyle, predictability and sustainability. The report says 40 per cent of low-wage employees don’t know when they’re working from one week to the next. And when they don’t work, they don’t get paid. This lack of a predictable work schedule wreaks havoc with child care, with education, with relationships. Just one example: How can a person trying to upgrade his skills to get a better job do so if he doesn’t know when he’s working? He can’t afford to quit his minimum wage job, but can’t get the education upgrades he needs due to unpredictable scheduling. He’s stuck in a minimum wage rut. The same holds true of child care — how can you schedule it around work if you don’t know when you’re working? How can you get and hold a second part-time minimum wage job to increase your standard of living if you can’t get week-to-week scheduling?

What needs to happen? Sooner or later workers need to be paid a living wage. In this economy, that’s not going to happen overnight. Workers need to have more options around buying benefits. And, significantly, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act needs to be updated to reflect this new reality. After all, more than half the workers in the GTHA alone work in precarious employment positions. The Act is silent on fair scheduling. It doesn’t deal with paid emergency leave and excludes more than one million people who work for small companies and don’t have the right to even a single paid sick day.

Public consultations on updating the Act begin today. Please get involved and bring some needed fairness to those stuck with precarious employment.

Howard Elliott

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