Evidence of meeting #140 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was contract.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Katherine Lippel  Professor, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Allyson Schmidt  Financial Empowerment Coach, Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District, As an Individual
Monique Moreau  Vice-President, National Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Francis Fong  Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada
Andrew Cardozo  President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

11 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Good morning, everyone.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 27, 2019, and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 28, 2019, the committee is beginning its study of precarious employment in Canada.

I'm very pleased to have our first panel of witnesses on this study. Appearing before our committee as individuals are Katherine Lippel, professor, law faculty, civil law section of the University of Ottawa; and Allyson Schmidt, financial empowerment coach, Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District. From the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, we have Monique Moreau, vice-president, national affairs. From the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, we have Francis Fong, chief economist. From the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, we have Andrew Cardozo, president. Welcome to all of you.

We'll be starting with your presentations. You each will have seven minutes to speak. At about one minute left, I'll very politely wave. Don't panic—a minute is a long time, and if you go over by a few seconds, it's not the end of the world.

To start us off, we are going to hear from Katherine Lippel.

The next seven minutes are all yours.

11 a.m.

Professor Katherine Lippel Professor, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I will speak in English. I apologize for that.

I will answer questions in French.

I hold the Canada research chair in occupational health and safety law at the University of Ottawa. I'm going to restrict my comments to the occupational health and safety and workers' compensation issues related to precarious employment, but I'm happy to speak more broadly in the question period.

There is a brief that I have provided with references. I will, in the six and half minutes now left, just target the really key issues.

First of all, in terms of definitions, the take-home message is that precarious employment does not have an absolute definition, and it depends on the context in which you're asking yourself the question. The core categorization of precarious employment always includes non-standard employment, which is non-standard as compared to the usual full-time, indefinite employment. It could be precarious because of time, such as for temporary, part-time or on-call workers. It could be because of space; you could be a home-based worker. That's part of precarious employment. It could be because of the employment relationship, such as those who have a triangular employment relationship, like workers who are working for temporary employment agencies or subcontracting, or those who are self-employed. The self-employed very often get forgotten in the regulatory frameworks. Occupational health and safety is a problem for all these categories of workers, but please do not forget the self-employed because we tend to forget the solo self-employed.

I'm cutting to the chase because I'm sure I'm going to run out of time, and then I'm going to go back and walk you through why I arrived at these conclusions.

You, as the federal government, have two hats. You have a hat as a regulator and a hat as an employer. Again, I'm just restricting myself to health and safety and workers' compensation. The types of issues I suggest you look at as a regulator are, first of all, making sure that the self-employed are included in part II of the Canada Labour Code, in terms of prevention. This is because if there's competition between employers who have salaried workers and people who are not obliged to obey the rules, you're going to have difficulties in terms of reducing to the lowest common denominator in working conditions.

Second, you should be paying attention to subcontracting and precarious contracts, particularly in certain sectors that fall within the remit of the federal government. It's not exclusively trucking, but interprovincial trucking would be something I suggest you look at. In terms of shipping, there are issues in relation to temporary workers who do not have the same protections in the shipping industry. There are, of course, many other industries as well.

As a regulator, again, were there to be a workers' compensation program for federal employees, you would be able to even the playing field. If somebody is working in Gatineau and they are precariously employed by the federal government, they have better rights than somebody who is working on the Ottawa side of the river. That shouldn't be, in my opinion.

Finally, as an employer, you can set some examples. Minimize your reliance on temporary agency workers. There have been issues in the past where several million dollars' worth of federal money goes to employees of temp agencies. Try to avoid outsourcing to the self-employed. It used to be that interpreters under the federal jurisdiction were salaried workers. They are now self-employed. This is a form of outsourcing. It has consequences for regulatory protections. Make sure that your employees are hired on indeterminate contracts as much as possible. Finally, ensure that no employee who wishes to work full-time is obliged to work part-time because part-time can be a blessing or a curse. If it's involuntary, it's a curse.

I'll now get to the underpinnings of this with the remaining time I have.

We've talked about definitions, the links between occupational health and safety and precarious employment. The short version is that studies around the world and studies at the ILO in particular bring together the literature that shows that various categories of precariously employed workers are more likely to have work accidents. They're more likely to have health and safety problems. The Quebec study that I was part of, EQCOTESST, has shown that they're more likely to have a work accident in Quebec. We have data on that. We also have data on sexual harassment and temporary work contracts. You're more likely to be sexually harassed if you're in a precarious job, and particularly if you're working on a temporary basis.

The second key issue, in terms of health and safety legislation and regulatory effectiveness, is what works and what doesn't. The short version is that across Canada and federally, the internal responsibility system underpins our occupational health and safety legislation. We count on workers to speak up if they're exposed to dangerous working conditions or obliged to do something dangerous. That doesn't work with the precariously employed, both the self-employed who will take contracts that they shouldn't because they're afraid they're not going to be able to earn their living, but also temp agency workers who do not speak out. There's lots of data on this. It's something to be looked at, what we call worker voice.

There is another point that I think is important to make. I was involved in a study in Ontario on temp agency workers. We did find, speaking to labour inspectors in particular, in Ontario, that there were many cases in which a client employer would bring in a temp agency worker to do something dangerous that they didn't want to give to their regular employees. In one case that the inspector shared with us, there was a death that was predictable.

We also know that what drives this type of behaviour is not that employers are nasty people who want to kill temp agency workers; rather, it's because there are economic incentives in the workers' compensation system to avoid having your people injured. That drives precarious employment. Ontario, to its credit, has changed its law in light of that study. It's something that should be reflected upon as well.

The other issue is in terms of disorganization, and this is something documented by the ILO. In precarious employment, particularly in the context of triangular employment relations where you have a temp agency, a client employer, a worker, and sometimes it's cascading subcontracting, nobody knows whose responsibility is what. Disorganization is a negative outcome of precarious employment and leads to regulatory failure in Canada, in the provinces, and really, in many other countries.

I will conclude with a word on workers' compensation. This is not your jurisdiction, normally, but we do know, and this is work we're doing now, that the precariously employed in every province in Canada are under-compensated because they're compensated on the basis of their salary at the time. Quebec is better because at least there is a floor, so it's never under minimum wage full time if you are injured and become paraplegic while you're working at McDonald's. This creates lots of problems for workers across Canada, particularly outside of Quebec, and should be the object of reflection to make sure that everybody is valued as if they can work full time. It's often new immigrants and other populations who are stuck in these temp agencies. I could talk about that later.

Thank you.

11:10 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Up next we have Allyson Schmidt, financial empowerment coach, Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District.


11:10 a.m.

Allyson Schmidt Financial Empowerment Coach, Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District, As an Individual

Thank you.

Good morning. My name is Allyson Schmidt. I'm the financial empowerment coach for Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District.

I'd like to express my appreciation to Terry Sheehan for inviting me to this committee to speak. I'm honoured and humbled to address this committee from my personal lived experience of precarious employment as a worker here in Canada.

This is a really big issue, and I appreciate that it's brought to the attention of the government in order to develop a definition of “precarious employment” and identify its impact on the lives of Canadians across the country. From personal experience I can tell this committee that it places an unfair burden on workers. It generates stress and creates many barriers to personal, financial and professional health, achievement and success.

Imagine going into work day after day and not being able to settle into your work knowing that you must be continuously searching for another job, planning your days to accommodate the juggling of multiple contracts, not taking on work in your field because it's only a short-term contract and you're not getting experience in your field that could benefit you later on. Then, on top of that, you have to try to balance child care, family life and the paying of bills. This is the daily reality of knowing that your contract is going to end soon, even while you're working full time.

I have worked five contracts at once as a single parent to a child with disabilities. The year I was doing that, I made less than $25,000.

The work that I have done includes university-level teaching and research, work in social services and work as a registered health care worker. I have been precariously employed my entire working career in Canada. I am an educated, experienced and capable woman with a lot to offer employers and my community. The under-employment I experienced has caused me to struggle with anxiety and depression and has affected my self-esteem.

From speaking with other women I know who are precariously employed, I can say the toll it takes on one's self-image and self-esteem is large. There is the stress of constantly applying for contracts and the stress of never feeling good enough or qualified enough. This comes from other women as well who have years of experience, high levels of education and various professional certifications.

The nature of precarious employment has meant that saving money has been next to impossible for the past 10 years. Not being able to save money means I'm not able to, for example, purchase a home. My being left out of the homebuyer market means that I am left paying more than the recommended 30% of my income on my housing costs to have appropriate housing for me and my children. For many Canadians, having a home leads to greater financial security and stability, and really, this is something I feel I can only dream of having.

As a single mother, I have to take into account my children's appointments, their sick days and other various activities to try to be a good parent. Finding a job that works around my children has been key to my success, but I know many single working mothers who are not that fortunate. Taking days off can truly put your job in jeopardy, further adding to the burden of stress and difficulty of planning life from paycheque to paycheque.

The reality of precarious employment makes financial planning very difficult. There have been times when I was out of work between contracts and have had to make do using credit. From my current work, I can see what happens when people are floating their lives on credit. It's very expensive and has dire consequences for your present and your future.

I see many people who are floating their lives on credit and non-banking financial services, which puts people at really great risk. The cycle of precarious employment puts people in financial trouble and puts hard-working Canadians even further behind than where they are.

As a member of generation X, I have been living the reality of precarious employment my entire working career. I grew up the daughter of a steelworker who saw the collapse of steel in the early 1980s and 1990s, but I still saw my parents able to own homes, take vacations and sick days and have medical benefits.

The burden on me now and on many others like me is that I have to pay out of pocket for medications and dental health, essential components for my ability to work and bring money into my home. I am not contributing to any retirement or pension plans other than the modest amounts that I am able to put aside from my household budget.

There are many things that I see other workers enjoying that I know I and other workers like me would give anything for.

Being precariously employed doesn't just affect me financially. It affects my health, my mental health, my self-esteem and my relationships with my children and my community. It affects me now and puts my future in jeopardy. It is my hope that the committee is able to develop a working definition that can actually be implemented into policies that can materially improve the nature of work in Canada to support workers and women like myself.

Thank you very much for your time and for inviting me to share my experience here today.

11:15 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Up next, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, we have Monique Moreau, vice-president of national affairs.

You have seven minutes.

April 2nd, 2019 / 11:15 a.m.

Monique Moreau Vice-President, National Affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

You should have our presentation in front of you that I'd like to walk you through in the next few minutes.

As many members know, CFIB is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization that represents more than 110,000 small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. Our members collectively employ more than 1.25 million Canadians and contribute nearly $75 billion or nearly half of Canada's GDP. They represent all sectors of the economy and are found in every region of the country.

As you may be aware, CFIB takes its direction solely from our members through a variety of surveys, which makes us a bit different from other organizations. The data I am sharing with you today is sourced from Statistics Canada, public opinion polling and our own survey on the changing world of work, which had nearly 7,000 respondents in 2017.

I'd like to provide a bit of context before getting into the details of our presentation.

As you can see on slide 2, job vacancy rates are currently at a nearly all-time high, with approximately 409,000 jobs currently unfilled. These vacancies are highest in the construction industry and for personal services—plumbers, mechanics, electricians, hair dressers, you name it. Arguably, this could be creating the best conditions for workers seeking employment.

We know the committee is here to study the notion of precarious work. This can be defined in a number of ways as I'm sure you've heard and will hear, but I'd like to start by challenging the myth that permanent jobs are on the decline.

If you look at slide 3, you'll see that job permanence over the last 18 years has remained virtually unchanged. This StatsCan data shows that 86% of jobs in the economy were permanent in 2018, down slightly from 87.5% that were permanent in the year 2000. The decrease was primarily felt during the 2008-09 recession and the proportion has been stable since then.

There was an increase in term contract work, from 5.8% to 7.1% of the workforce, but part of the increase was offset by reductions in seasonal and casual work. The overall trend of permanent to temporary work during the past 18 years has been kept to an increase of only 0.8% of the workforce, equivalent to about 125,000 jobs of the 15.8 million available in the economy.

Another myth—the notion that precarious work is largely found in the private sector—is disputed by the StatsCan data available to you on slide 4. In fact, most short-term or contract jobs tend to be found in the public sector, as you can see.

Considering, again, data from StatsCan, on slide 5 you'll see that of those individuals who are working part time, the vast majority do so due to personal preference or because they're studying and not because they are forced into it. It was particularly compelling for me to note that while we know there are workers out there who would prefer a full-time job but cannot find one in their chosen profession and so create one out of part-time jobs or contracts, first, this is in fact decreasing, as the data shows if you look at the figures from 1997 compared to now. Second, any recommendations this committee makes should be sure to address this relatively small proportion of workers and not disrupt employment status chosen by students and individuals out of personal preference.

As part of our research into this issue, we conducted a public opinion poll that demonstrated that generally workers are satisfied with their work arrangement. Importantly, as we see on slide 6, 83% of independent contractors in particular are satisfied with their work arrangements.

What is the experience of small business owners? As you can see on slide 7, the vast majority, or 94% of our members, hire permanent employees. This data is from a survey we conducted in 2017 with nearly 7,000 responses. Some members also use temporary employees and just over a quarter use independent contractors.

As you can see on slide 8, in a small business, part-time work often leads to full-time work in nearly half, or 43%, of instances.

When we polled small business owners as to their reasons for hiring independent contractors, as you can see on slide 9, they identify issues such as making it easier to adapt to changes in demand. It gives them access to greater expertise and competency and increases the flexibility of their organization. These are really important measures in a time of a changing and nimble economy. Forty-five per cent of small business owners note that it is the worker's preference to be an independent contractor and cite the red tape involved in hiring employees as a barrier to doing so.

Similarly, when we asked small business owners to share with us why they hire temporary employees, over two-thirds said they did so to help them adjust with changes in demands and as a result of a shortage of qualified labour. In some instances, they simply cannot find someone to work full time. Again, a quarter of small business owners noted that it is the employee's choice in some instances to be a temporary worker. This may be particularly true in situations where the worker is an artist or has another passion project they work on and they use temporary or part-time jobs to keep them afloat in between projects.

The last important piece I'd like to share with the committee today is that many small businesses use temporary employees as a starting point into creating a role for them as a permanent employee. As you can see on slide 11, 43% of small businesses are likely to convert a temporary employee into a permanent one.

In conclusion, we would offer the following recommendations to this committee:

First, support regulations that give flexibility to both employers and employees.

Second, reduce red tape associated with hiring and training employees.

Third, recognize part-time and temporary contracts as a first step toward full-time employment.

Fourth, recognize intention between contractors and employers. This is often a subject on which we get a lot of calls at CFIB. CRA is now coming in and evaluating whether the intention of the parties has made them employers and contractors or employees and employers. It is creating tension, and in some instances, it is costing our members tens of thousands of dollars as they fight this project through the courts.

Fifth, adapt to the changing world of work. Governments cannot regulate the new economy in the same way as they did the old.

Last, as we heard today, help self-employed workers. EI, taxation and a number of other rules need to adapt.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to your questions.

Let me point out that I can also answer your questions in French, if necessary.

11:20 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Now, from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, we have Francis Fong, chief economist.

You have seven minutes, sir.

11:20 a.m.

Francis Fong Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. My name is Francis Fong, and I am the chief economist at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, or CPA Canada.

Our organization is one of the largest national accounting organizations in the world, representing more than 210,000 Canadian chartered professional accountants. Collectively, CPA Canada and the profession are committed to acting in the public interest and promoting social and economic development here in Canada. Through our public policy research, we have similarly identified precarious work as a key issue facing Canadians and one that lacks a clear definition, resulting in difficulty quantifying the extent of the problem and developing policies to address it. We were extremely pleased to hear that this committee had taken on the important work of studying the issue of precarious employment.

CPA Canada published a report last year that examines the impact of precarious work, highlights the need for an accepted definition and even proposes a starting point for a definition. The report elaborates on the challenges I will discuss here in defining precarious employment. First, though, I will give some context.

Canada's labour market is evolving at a rapid pace. Changes related to technology, the structure of our economy and even the nature of how consumers expect to receive their goods and services today have resulted in a fundamental shift in the structure of firms' business models and the traditional employer-employee relationship.

While the labour market was once dominated by full-year, full-time employment, Canadians are now finding themselves in more precarious circumstances, in work that is unstable, insecure, uncertain and potentially vulnerable to employer misconduct.

The challenge for researchers and policy-makers is that we simply do not know how many Canadians are affected, because we lack a formal definition. I liken this to our long-standing debate about poverty in Canada, because we lacked a definition for a very long time. Because we lack a formal definition, no labour market or other economic data is collected on the precariously employed, so enumerating these individuals is difficult.

Currently our alternatives are twofold. Either we leverage the existing data as a proxy—and I'll point to my colleague, Ms. Lippel, who brought a great example of focusing on things like non-standard work as an example of how we define precarious work today—or organizations define the issue themselves and collect their own data, for example, by collecting their own survey data.

With the former, as I mentioned, the best we can do is leverage data on non-standard employment, arrangements such as part-time, temporary and casual work, and state that those involved are at higher risk of being precariously employed. However, in our view, non-standard employment is ultimately not necessarily precarious employment.

With the latter approach, the challenge is that each organization's definition differs to some degree, meaning there's no comparability. Also, since that data isn't collected by Statistics Canada, it isn't comparable to the wealth of other economic and social data that we have available, which can be linked to further identify the challenges faced by the precariously employed population.

Those challenges can be significant. We know that precarious work—and I'll point to my colleague, Ms. Schmidt, who gave us a great example of that—tends to feature less stable incomes, a lack of access to non-wage benefits, and in some cases even exclusion from our basic social safety net.

Consider those working in the gig economy. I raise the gig economy as an example, not because it's the extent of precarious work. They may face a low level of income that varies significantly from month to month based on the availability of work. At a minimum, this results in a lack of ability to save for the future. In a worst-case scenario, it leads to bouncing in and out of poverty. Because they're not considered employees by many of these firms—someone, for example, driving for Uber would be considered self-employed—they aren't given a T4, so they are not entitled even to basic things like employer contributions to the Canada pension plan or to employment insurance, basic things that underpin the social safety net that Canadians have depended on for many years.

From the perspective of our discussion, then, the challenge isn't just about gig workers who are precariously employed. That is simply one example. The challenge with defining precarious work is nuanced. The variety of situations precarious workers may face is vast, and I can go into many different examples when we go deeper in our discussion. From a definition perspective, if our definition is too narrow, we risk excluding people who are truly in need. Conversely, if the definition is too broad or vague, we risk that supports we ultimately develop and provide will be spread too thinly to make a difference, or that regulations we impose capture false positives.

For that reason, our report proposes a definition that covers any work arrangement that lies at the intersection of low earnings, high income volatility, uncertainty in future employment and potentially the presence of employer misconduct.

I hope the committee will find this a useful starting point for its deliberations. We have provided copies of this report in both languages.

I'd like to thank the committee again for taking on this important work. I look forward to your questions.

11:30 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much, sir.

From the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, we have Andrew Cardozo, president.

You have seven minutes, sir.

11:30 a.m.

Andrew Cardozo President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

Mr. Chairman, thank you to you and the committee for identifying this important issue for attention.

By way of introduction, I'll mention that the Pearson Centre is a progressive think tank that addresses a range of economic and social issues, the future of work being one of our top three priorities this year.

Our approach to this subject of precarious employment is to look at the broader issue of what I would consider the future of work, although it is fair to say that precarious employment runs through most of the sub-issues that we have identified. Whether it's rapid technological change, the layoffs at GM and Fiat Chrysler or the downturn of the natural resource sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the rapidly evolving economy and the changing nature of work is an important challenge facing Canadians, and indeed it is a challenge facing most of the world today.

Precariousness is growing. It's a fact of life for most young people. There's stress on individuals, for sure, but I would also remind you that there's also a stress on the economy. As you have more people in precarious work, they have less ability to buy and participate in the economy, and that has an effect considerably beyond individuals.

Precariousness is at the core of a lot of the issues. I'll just outline some of them. I'll mention that the solutions lie through the work of a lot of partners, including the private sector, labour, governments, the education and training system, families and individuals. The issues we are identifying in our future work project, which is a year-long project are as follows:

Number one is training for technological advancement. That's looking at the skills for tomorrow.

Number two is the effects of AI, artificial intelligence, on the workplace and on jobs.

Number three is identifying new and future sectors and jobs.

Number four is strengthening manufacturing and other existing sectors.

Number five is employment uncertainty and the steady reduction in full-time jobs.

Number six is the growth of the gig economy.

Number seven is the role of start-ups and self-employment.

Number eight is the need for entrepreneurship training for all.

Number nine is outsourcing, offshoring and global production.

Number 10 is the role of the formal education and training system and lifelong learning.

Number 11 is eliminating barriers, advancing equality and inclusive workforces.

Number 12 is creating opportunity for under-represented groups.

Number 13 is advancement for indigenous peoples.

Number 14 is recognizing international credentials.

Number 15 is global education.

Our project is about having discussions in key regions of the country with key partners and developing a series of reports on each of these subjects. Rather than doing more research, we really want to focus on a small number of realistic and bold recommendations for the future.

With regard to precarious employment, I want to identify a few issues for you to consider on what I might call the continuum of precariousness. There are three points I want to mention here. One is that some sectors have been and will always be more precarious than others. Two, some sectors are becoming increasingly precarious as skills change and as part of the work that is performed is either automated or outsourced. Three, I want you to keep in mind that the workers with lower levels of education and training will be more precarious. The estimates are that, for the economy of tomorrow, 60% to 70% of the workforce will require a post-secondary education. That leaves another 30% to 40% of the workforce who will not have post-secondary education and training, and they will be even more precarious than the others.

I want to leave you with two recommendations for consideration. One is to give consideration to this idea of the continuum of precariousness and how it will change over time. Number two is to support the idea of entrepreneurship training for all in high school and post-secondary education, not just for business students, as almost all workers today and certainly in the future will be self-employed for short and long periods during their career.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you to all of you for keeping it under the clock, making my job easy. I appreciate that a lot.

We're going to get started with questions from MP Diotte, please.

11:35 a.m.


Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Good morning, and thanks to all for showing up.

I'm from Sault Ste. Marie, so a special hello to Allyson.

I guess the biggest take-away I get from this is trying to find a definition for “precarious employment”. I want to start with a bit of an example. I was in an Uber one day and I was talking to this fellow. I said, “Why do you do it?” He said, “Well, you know, I live right across from a Home Depot, and I could make $12 an hour and have benefits, but it's a pain in the butt because then they want me in Monday from 3:00 till 9:00, and I can't spend time with my kids at that time, so I could make $12 an hour and have some form of certainty, but I can make $17 an hour and be completely independent.” There was a trade-off there, and he was happier taking a job that would be, I guess, defined as precarious.

I just want to go around the table and get your definitions of precarious employment.

Mr. Cardozo can start.

11:35 a.m.

President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

Andrew Cardozo

I think you raise two points. One is that precariousness is not necessarily a bad thing. For a lot of people, it's what they like. As has been pointed out, it's also a good avenue to enter either a workplace or a career. I would say a lot of jobs are precarious, with all due respect to all of you around the table—

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

11:35 a.m.

President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

Andrew Cardozo

—our key examples of precarious workers. I'm not commenting on how precarious, but by definition you take on four-year contracts and then you try again for your contract to be extended.

I guess I'll make one point, which is to say that rather than trying to define it, I will say that there's a range of precariousness. From the point of view of government, do you look at all precariousness, or do you focus on certain types of precariousness? Precariousness exists at higher levels of income, like your level, but it also exists at lower levels. I think we want to be concerned about the long-term nature of precariousness and the effect it has on individuals and families as well as on the economy.

11:35 a.m.


Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

That's a good answer. I guess that's also what I'd like to know: What is the problem that we have to address per se? That's a good example. We are in precarious employment, but what is the problem we have to solve?

Mr. Fong.

11:35 a.m.

Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Francis Fong

You kind of stole my answer. I think that's where it starts. When I talk about precarious work, it starts with what we think the problem is that we need to solve here. For me, I point to someone like Allyson, whose personal lived experience is exactly the problem we want to solve. It's someone who is in a situation where they're potentially bouncing in and out of poverty, might not have enough to make ends meet and suffers all kinds of economic, social and health consequences. That, for me, is ultimately the real challenge.

To your point, or to your anecdote, the challenge speaks to my opening remarks. It's the nuance. How do we specifically identify those people? I think the point that Katherine was raising was that, hey, right now we use this idea of non-standard work and how all contract and part-time workers are precarious workers, but the reality is that it's probably not true.

I'll give examples. Go to Toronto and look at an IT consultant. They're on contract. They could be making upwards of $200,000 a year. If they're making that much money, are we really going to expend our efforts worrying that this person might not have a job in a year's time? No. They have the means to be able to save for the future, handle their own affairs and pay for their own non-wage benefits. But if someone is working in a six-month short-term contract, contract to contract, and they're making $25,000 a year, then yes, I am going to worry about that person.

Similarly, part-time work is the same deal. If there's a young woman who's working part time and trying to pay her way through school, and she wants to get more hours but she can't, necessarily, or she's taking night classes and can't get access to that so her income fluctuates from month to month, then yes, I'm going to worry about that person. But a retired civil servant with a good pension who's working part time to keep busy.... Again, they might be in an identical situation income-wise. Their wage earnings might be identical, but their situations are fundamentally different.

For me, the definition has to start at that point. What's the problem we want to solve? For me, it's that we need to prevent people from bouncing in and out of poverty. We have a good definition of poverty now, but what our social safety net doesn't do a good job of addressing is someone who is okay one month and not okay the next month. That is the real challenge. It's about starting with some sort of a threshold for annual earnings, monthly earnings or what have you, and then adding in these different nuances of what precarity means.

For me, one of those elements has to be income volatility, right? CPA Canada just produced a report estimating that upwards of a third of Canadians are now facing volatile incomes. Who knows what the level of income is, but volatile income in itself is a real challenge for a lot of folks.

It's going to be some sort of earnings threshold, something about income volatility. Something about preference, I think, is going to be really important too. The potential for dangerous work or employer misconduct also has to be there. I think what we have to do is cut up precarious work into its different elements so that we can start collecting data on all of those pieces in order to really enumerate who's really affected here.

11:40 a.m.


Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

That's excellent.

I know we're not going to get to everybody.

Ms. Moreau.

11:40 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Actually, we're past time, I'm afraid. I'm sorry. We'll come back.

MP Sheehan.

11:40 a.m.


Terry Sheehan Liberal Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you very much, everyone, for being here today. It's an excellent way to kick off this study.

I had an opportunity to present, but some stuff happened so we ended up cancelling the committee meeting. I'm not going to delve into a lot of my comments. I'm going to save that for another time. I want to ask questions of these people who have presented some excellent testimony.

One of the things Katherine mentioned was about people being afraid, about the worker's voice in a lot of contexts. Obviously, they enter into a contract and their hope, of course, is full-time employment at some time, and then that contract, as my research shows, leads to another contract, to another contract, and six, seven or eight years later.... Allyson, from Sault Ste. Marie, is a perfect example. She is making $25,000 five different jobs later, without the benefits.

There is one thing I want your comments on. We did this a bit when it came to pay equity. I sat on that committee. It was about being proactive. We took a look at the federal service and the corporations that we're responsible for in terms of having a proactive system where managers, directors and whatnot would have to identify those who would be working precariously and why.

I say that to you as well, because in my experience, I worked precariously in government and I also had my own business. A lot of what my research has indicated is that when managers started.... Also, this is just me. There are a thousand scenarios we can talk about, but I'll talk about this one. When they introduced performance pay for managers, part of it was managing a budget, right? What's the way to keep costs down? Keep people precariously employed: no benefits, nothing, no costs.

I'd like some comments from Katherine on that particular scenario and perhaps Allyson could delve a little more into her experiences.

I'll start with Katherine.

11:40 a.m.

Prof. Katherine Lippel

Thank you for that question.

This overlaps with what I would have said in relation to the previous question, which is that if you're looking for a definition, you have to have a reason for looking for that. A definition for statistical purposes is a very different exercise than a definition for regulatory purposes. A definition for managing purposes, again, is a very different definition. What I've said in my notes, for instance, in the definition, I started with non-standard employment. We also speak about job insecurity and employment insecurity. There are two different categories. Someone who is afraid of losing their job, that's job insecurity. Allyson's situation is one of employment insecurity. You're always looking for another job all the time because you can't make ends meet.

What you need from both a regulatory and a statistical perspective is clarity. You need to say, “These are the parameters that are interesting to us.” We know from StatsCan that 17% of the temporarily employed do not have health benefits. That's a lot of people. If we're encouraging managers to increase that number in the way that you just suggested, this is not the good way to go for a healthy Canada. Basically, be very precise about what it is that we are promoting when we're having managers who have performance outcomes and what the consequences are of that promotion. Are we encouraging temp agencies to come and provide services for the federal government? What are the working conditions for those temp agency workers? Are we providing temporary contracts that will be renewed time after time or saying henceforth all the interpreters are going to be self-employed? If they get sick, maybe they can sue somebody because they're no longer covered under workers' compensation.

Those are all the issues that you have to proactively define. The literature is all there. We don't need to do a great number of studies to say, “These are the consequences for health. These are the consequences for regulatory effectiveness.” Each regulation is different. The consequences for employment standards would be different categories of people we would be looking at. Full-time minimum wage is precarious employment as well if we're looking at the types of supports that people are needing to be able to feed their families, to have day care, etc.

The only word of caution is be precise about what you want to do, and then make sure you're not using a broad, unspecific definition to do it with.

11:45 a.m.


Terry Sheehan Liberal Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Allyson, you told a very succinct story. I think in what you've done, you're very brave in being the worker's voice, something that many people in Canada are afraid to do. Thank you very much for doing that, for standing here and giving us a concrete example.

Perhaps you could delve a little more into precarity. Some of the stuff in my research had indicated that there's not only just the economic and health issues that precarity brings, but there's also a social disengagement where people are so busy raising their kids, going from job to job, looking for security that their ability to join volunteer groups, democratic engagement is less.

Do you feel that at all, that sometimes you're just so tired you don't have that ability to go out and engage in society?

11:45 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

A brief answer, please.

11:45 a.m.

Financial Empowerment Coach, Credit Counselling Service of Sault Ste. Marie and District, As an Individual

Allyson Schmidt

It is a big struggle to engage in the community. That's something that's very important to me, to be a productive member of Sault Ste. Marie and to make conditions better, because I see where I am. While I am struggling, I see people who are struggling even more than me. Certainly, working all day and then maybe having to take on other jobs.... Often I'll have my kids in bed, and then that's when I start my second job where I'm doing something else. That's on top of trying to maintain a household and all these different things. Then to try to have anything as simple as friendships or relationships or anything outside of that, it's very difficult. Having a quality of life is challenging. Putting food on the table, a roof over your head, and medicine to keep you healthy, when those are the basic things you're struggling with, whether my income is $500 a month or $5,000 a month, it's challenging. It has lots of consequences for participation as a member of society.

11:45 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Now we'll go over to Madam Sansoucy for six minutes.