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

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to all the witnesses for their contribution to the work of our committee.

My first question is for Ms. Lippel.

When we talk about precarious work, we are also often talking about temporary work. In your research, you say that work is a determinant of health. Precarious work undeniably has an impact on workers' health.

In your testimony, you mentioned temporary employment agencies. You mentioned that temporary subcontracted workers are likely to be more injured.

In the NDP, we believe that we must improve the working conditions in precarious jobs from temporary employment agencies. Could you tell us more about the work you have done for this? How can we improve the situation for temporary employment agencies and the impact on workers' health? You mentioned that the Government of Canada also uses those agencies.

11:50 a.m.

Prof. Katherine Lippel

Thank you for your question, Ms. Sansoucy.

First, temporary work is a much broader concept than work provided by a temporary employment agency. Until 2005, Statistics Canada kept separate statistics. In 2010, the distinction between temporary employment and employment provided through an agency was lost. This is a fundamental distinction that must be kept, because if we want to understand what is happening, we must be able to monitor what is happening.

Both in Quebec and Ontario, occupational health studies have been conducted on the exposure of workers. In Quebec, a study was conducted by Dr. Massé, who was then Montreal's director of public health. First, that study found that the vast majority of agency workers were immigrants, which was also noted by the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail. Second, in terms of risks and compensated work, that is injuries that can result in compensation, those workers are disproportionately exposed, according to statistics.

Among the solutions, the Government of Quebec amended the legislation in 2018 to require temporary employment agencies to have a permit. Most authorities do not even require a permit. Some provinces do, but I don't know what the federal situation is. I think it's regulated on the provincial side. However, minimum protection criteria must be required if the federal government uses an agency employee. This is to ensure that we are not dealing with an unscrupulous agency, a fly-by-night company—which is a problem—or to numbered companies that disappear and are reborn two days later. In particular, the temporary employment agency sector must be regulated.

As for the question of whether temporary contracts should be prohibited, I agree with the lady who mentioned that we could not ask to terminate temporary work. It was done in France and it is not effective.

Temporary employment agencies are a whole different story. This sector really needs to be regulated to ensure that clients, including the federal government, are accountable, as are the temporary employment agencies.

That's one part of the answer.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Thank you very much, Ms. Lippel.

For the benefit of the committee, could you provide the clerk with the additional surveys and reports you have just mentioned, which are relevant to our study, as well as information on Quebec's legislation on temporary employment agencies?

11:50 a.m.

Prof. Katherine Lippel

Okay.

The rest is in the report, but it is true that I do not mention the legislation there.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Okay. Thank you very much.

My next question is for Mr. Fong.

In your document on precarious work in Canada, which identifies people who are truly at risk, you draw a strong connection between precarious work and the fight against poverty. You say that it is imperative to deepen our understanding of this issue. You talk about the new poverty reduction strategy and the measures to be adopted with regard to the precarious nature of work.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government's poverty reduction strategy does not mention the precarious nature of work. Can you tell the committee why it is essential that this strategy deal specifically with the precarious nature of work?

11:50 a.m.

Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Francis Fong

I think it's a really good question. To me, this is something that's been around for quite some time and yet we're only identifying it now as a problem.

If we go back to seasonal work, with many of the work characteristics for people in fisheries, for example, it might seem like precarious work, but that industry has been around for generations. Individuals in that industry have handled it well enough over the years, except for obviously in the many years of decline that we've seen in the industry in the past while.

Then, why now? Why are we worried about this now? I think the challenge is that it's starting to impact a lot more folks who aren't necessarily prepared for that kind of volatility, living in certain environments or wanting a particular way of life, or simply not making enough income to manage through it.

I'll point to some of the statistics that Monique pointed out about how non-standard work may not be increasing in Canada as a share of total work. The statistics do bear that out. Part-time work, for example, hasn't changed as a share of total employment since 1993.

However, in our research, we show that basically there are certain sectors within part-time work that have seen quite a large increase in the total share of employment. Those would be things like accommodation and food services, retail, and the education sector—Allyson already mentioned it—is a huge one. Two of those three sectors pay some of the lowest wages in the country. With regard to the education sector, while it pays fairly well on an average basis, the average hours worked in that sector are by far the lowest. It's something like half the national average, so even if you get a decent wage, you're not going to get enough hours.

Now we're starting to see the kinds of precariousness that impacted previous generations in certain industries, like fisheries, for example, start to bleed out into broader society. We're seeing certain pockets of people who are now getting hit with this volatility that they are unequipped to deal with because of low-income levels or what have you.

From the perspective of why we care about it, I care about it in the same way that I care about people living in poverty. It's happening in our economy because of any number of reasons: pressures on business competitiveness, slowing growth, low productivity growth. There are any number of broad economic trends that we can point to.

The reality is that while those things are happening, we're seeing a societal outcome that we aren't happy with. That's why I think precarious work matters as much as poverty.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Now over to MP Long, please.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our presenters this morning.

I am going to share my time with Parliamentary Secretary Vaughan, but first, I have a question of you, Mr. Fong.

How do you see precarious employment affecting a highly regulated and standardized profession like yours, one that requires accreditation?

11:55 a.m.

Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Francis Fong

That's an excellent question.

I can maybe change the question to say, is precarious work becoming more prevalent among accountants, for example, or the accounting profession or what have you, or any regulated profession? I think the answer, at least from our perspective, is that we don't know.

Andrew brought up a bunch of great points about how things might be changing over time. We're investigating right now about how our profession is being impacted by technological change. Many different tasks that the accounting profession does right now, financial reporting, for example, are potentially at risk of being automated away with things like AI and blockchain. That's not an unrealistic thing to expect in the next 10 years.

What happens to our profession at that point? What happens to the people who are involved in those jobs right now? What do they do? Do they have the adaptability to rise up the skill curve? We're trying to find that out. We have a project called foresight, and we're launching consultations across the country to find out that exact answer.

From a policy perspective, there are even broader questions that we need to worry about here in this room. For example, if the accounting profession depends on things like financial reporting to gain critical early job skills, where is the new generation of accountants going to get that if those jobs have been automated away?

Do we become more precarious? It's very possible, but I think the answer is that we don't know.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thank you.

MP Vaughan.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

I have a couple of questions for Mr. Fong.

On page 7 of the report, I note that with regard to part-time employment by sector, the three fastest-growing areas are education; information, culture and recreation; and accommodation and food services. These define my riding in downtown Toronto in many ways in terms of the digital media sector, the culture sector, as well as the hospitality sector. On the next page, what I also note is that with regard to temporary employment share by sector, those areas with the fastest-growing employment rates are also the areas with the fastest-growing temporary employment dynamics. This means that the new growth in the job market is in precarious work. That is why it's an emerging issue as opposed to one that you can go back 10 years and measure very effectively.

That being said, you raised the point that someone earning $200,000 as an IT specialist working contract to contract is not necessarily precariously employed. The phrase that I often hear when discussing this in the community is that they are a bike accident away from being precariously employed. In other words, all it takes is a momentary change in their life circumstance and suddenly that $200,000 is unavailable to them. Additionally, if they take time away from the constant renewal of contracts, they get off the conveyor belt of contracts and all of a sudden find themselves in a position where they can't find new work. Then their skills start to fall behind. So, in light of the fact that salary isn't the issue, but rather the precariousness of the contracts regardless of salary, what are the things that government could do, instead of fighting precariousness, to understand how to accommodate it and protect people who find themselves in that situation? There's this notion that you have to stop it as opposed to accommodate it. Maybe the thing to do is to accommodate it more substantially.

Noon

Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Francis Fong

I think that's an excellent question.

I'll note first some of the remarks that my colleague, Monique, made about trying to balance how we define precarious work with, ultimately, what we decide are our policies to address it and what cost that imposes on business. If I look at how limited the resources are that Canada has to address all the different problems that we face, precarious work being an important one, in my opinion, what I would want to do is make sure that those resources go to those who are in greatest need. That would be, ultimately, my main concern. Is someone a bike accident away from precarity? I think that's absolutely true. I think you could probably extend that point to many full-year, full-time workers, people with permanent jobs.

We all face some level of precarity in our work. It might not be a bike accident. My company could decide at any point that it no longer needs a chief economist, and I could lose my job, or something along those lines. I think precarity has now become a new reality for all of us. That is why I think it's excellent that you brought up rethinking what we do to accommodate that new reality because it is going to be a new reality. Maybe we're putting the cart before the horse here because for me, ultimately, I think we need to define the issue and count how many people there actually are first.

Noon

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

If employers are driving this partially as a way of sort of composing a workforce around projects that they have in place right in front of them.... Now we have heard through other previous studies that if we were to touch EI premiums much more, it would constitute a change in the rate structure. There would have to be a new actuarial table established and probably new rates to support flexibility and quicker access to funds.

If employers are driving precarity into the workforce, do they not, therefore, have an obligation to also create the stability that completes that social contract?

Noon

Chief Economist, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

Francis Fong

I think that's a very tough question. It's a very philosophical question, in my opinion. I mean, I would lean towards yes in that regard; you are absolutely right. But, ultimately, it's going to be a challenge to convince that the economic force that is driving the workplace towards more of these kinds of work arrangements is going to result in the need for higher EI premiums or whatever the case may be. You know, at the end of the day, yes, I think you're right about that.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

Now we'll go to MP Morrissey, please.

Noon

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to follow up on the theme my colleague, MP Vaughan, was using. If you look at the statistics, the full-time, stable workforce is pretty consistent over 18 years. That tells me the precarious side is staying consistent as well. There are a number of factors driving that. In our government's recent budget, we increased the attractiveness for seniors to return to the workforce. They would then fit within the statistic of precarious work. Am I correct? However, they would not require the supports that Ms. Schmidt referenced because they have supports and different demands from their socio-economic perspective.

Noon

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

Monique Moreau

Perhaps I could jump in here. We would agree, and I think this gets to the point that Mr. Fong was making earlier, that if you look at slide 5, the percentage of people who are facing part time due to economic constraints are the people who we should be supporting. We should be trying to make sure that we don't disrupt the sought-out versions of part-time or contract or temporary work. Again, the definition part is going to be tricky, but I think it's something to keep in mind. This gets a bit to the discussion that MP Vaughan was having, that all of the support structures we have societally right now through employment insurance and the Canada Labour Code revisions were created during a time when the economy was employers and full-time workers, largely.

Now we need to adapt—we have no choice—and whether you call it the gig economy or technological innovation, it's coming. Our view is that the sharing economy and the gig economy have come up due to over-regulation and so the Airbnbs, the Ubers and the Lyfts of the world are frankly flying footloose and fancy-free and getting away with it, and it's disrupting the incumbents who we have sympathy for. They're struggling.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

I agree with that. I want to go to the last recommendation made, which is to help self-employed workers and that EI and taxation rules need to adapt.

Briefly, if you were going to recommend changes, what recommendation would you make on those two?

April 2nd, 2019 / 12:05 p.m.

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

Monique Moreau

You can opt in and out of EI now as a self-employed worker, which we think is important, but that should be expanded to some of the other benefits that you can get under EI, and under taxation, especially when it comes to being an employee or an independent contractor, there needs to be clarity.

I can't remember who among the panel has mentioned this now but there's a fog of confusion between Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency in determining when an employee is considered to be an employee or when they're considered to be an independent contractor, and this will sometimes go contrary to the intentions of the two parties. Then the employer and the employee end up facing back taxes based on a ruling by CRA.

We would push the government to consider...and this impacts a whole raft of regions of the economy.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

I agree.

I have a question for Mr. Cardozo.

Precarious employment appears to have been consistent over the last number of years as a percentage of the workforce. How can government training programs decrease precarious employment? If we look at it, it has been consistent. How could government training programs be better targeted to decrease precarious employment? In your opinion, can they do that?

12:05 p.m.

President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

Andrew Cardozo

One of the things that we've talked about is kind of like what Mr. Vaughan talked about, not so much accommodating but preparing people for precarious employment, and that is providing training in entrepreneurship.

One of the things I noticed in the budget, and which is a really important and positive development, is lifelong learning for adult workers, with their being able to opt out and take a certain number of weeks of training. That is super important in the long term. It is important for people to be able to keep their jobs, whether they're permanent or precarious, that prepare them for training for other kinds of jobs, but I come back to the point of entrepreneurship.

At one of the round tables that we had, which was actually in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, somebody said something that I kind of knew, but she just said it so articulately, which is that we should have entrepreneurship training for all students, not just business students. If you go to the kinds of workers Mr. Vaughan was talking about in his riding, artists and so forth, they don't really often focus on entrepreneurship training, yet they are entrepreneurs, and we just expect them to make it through and they themselves expect to make it through. But as we go to more of a gig economy and self-employment—

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

So you see a training-focused role.

The part that I find difficult is the reference made—a number of people have made it—that more and more precarious employment is occurring, but if you look at the bar, it's pretty flat. So how do you rationalize the two?

12:05 p.m.

President, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy

Andrew Cardozo

It's also about the different aspects of precariousness. Some of it is temporariness. Some of it is low income. As was mentioned earlier—

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Then how do we go to...there's permanent temporary employment, and this goes back to the whole definition of precarious. We're getting a whole smorgasbord of issues that you're attempting to address, because Mr. Fong referenced the seasonal fish processing industry. It's old. They're highly skilled workers. They don't view themselves as precarious because they return, return, return to the same employer, and they do have benefits in those scales. In lumping them into the precarious definition, they would not see themselves there.

I understand Ms. Schmidt's position. That to me is where we should be focusing, on really defining precarious and then looking at what supports are needed to either help individuals move out of those situations or if they can't and because of lifestyle they must stay, then what supports are needed to prevent them from creeping into poverty from time to time.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you. Sorry, but I'm afraid that's time.

MP Falk, please. You have six minutes.