That the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be instructed to undertake a study of precarious employment in Canada and be mandated to (i) develop a definition of precarious employment, including specific indicators, as well as examine current data and options to expand available data, (ii) identify the role that precarious employment plays in the economy and in the federally-regulated private sector and the impact it has on the lives of individual Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today to my private member's Motion No. 194, regarding precarious employment in Canada.
My motion proposes that the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, HUMA, be instructed to undertake a study of precarious employment in Canada and be mandated to: first, develop a definition of precarious employment, including specific indicators, as well as examine current data and options to expand available data; and second, identify the role that precarious employment plays in the economy and in the federally regulated private sector and the impact it has on the lives of individual Canadians.
I firmly believe that this motion is of critical importance. In order to develop effective public policy, we must first have a clear and consistent definition of precarious employment in Canada.
It is a priority of our government to make evidence-based policies that reflect the needs of Canadians. We must study and consult and build a strong foundation of knowledge to truly understand and define precarious employment in Canada.
No matter the province or the territory one lives in, whether one lives in a rural or an urban area, whether one is a lawyer or a labourer, a man or a woman, each and every Canadian deserves the same standards and opportunities from the government's policies.
In order to have a fair chance to succeed, we must level the playing field and provide support for those who need it the most. To do this, we need to know things such as who is affected by the precarious employment, what are the indicators, and what are the social and economic symptoms of precarious work.
The ultimate purpose of my motion is to enable families in Canada to thrive and to support themselves with dignity and respect. We need a national definition that applies specific indicators to identify precarious employment in order to accomplish this objective.
Motion No. 194 has been well received by my constituents in my riding of Sault Ste. Marie. It is a riding that has experienced the many challenges of employment insecurity, but it is also a riding where hard-working, employed folks tell me that they are not able to afford to go to the dentist, that they cannot take any time off work when they are sick because they cannot afford to lose a day's pay, or that they fear losing their job. As a result, they go to work sick instead of taking care of themselves, and they may also end up making other co-workers and their clients sick.
One constituent told me about the panic she goes through when her child is unwell, knowing her family will lose a day's pay or more. Imagine the anxiety and the stress created for families in these situations. Too many Canadians are facing these types of difficult circumstances and have too few options.
My constituents work very hard. Canadians work very hard, and they deserve some stability for themselves and their families.
There is a vast amount of research available on different aspects of precarious employment, both internationally and nationally. What all this research shows us is that no one is immune to the effects of precarious work.
A recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, entitled “No Safe Harbour”, found that more than one-fifth of Canadian professionals, 22%, are in some form of precarious work, including part-time work, contract work or freelance work.
This study reports that precarious work cuts across all employment sectors, professional occupations, wage levels, ages and career stages. Unfortunately, one cannot count on age and experience to help out. Data indicates a spike in the share of precarious work among the 55-plus age group and, interestingly, among those with 10 or more years of experience in their profession. These are folks who are only 10 or 15 years away from retirement, and if they are not able to put away money for a good retirement, how is it going to be for them in the future?
Another element in trying to avoid precarious employment is that education alone will not shield people from the problem.
The survey found that precarious professionals are actually more likely to have a post-secondary degree. This number is at 30%, versus non-precarious professionals at 23%.
Additionally, having a full-time job might not be enough to avoid precarious work. Twenty-six per cent of precarious workers report having full-time jobs. Typically, these jobs lack security, where the workers are uncertain that they will have a job a year from now, or there is a lack of benefits, such as sick days or pensions.
Further, several studies clearly demonstrate that the labour market is tilted against women. In other words, women are disproportionately affected by precarious employment. Professional women are far more likely than their male counterparts to be in precarious work, with women accounting for 60% of all precarious professionals. This has little to do with women gravitating toward less secure jobs; rather, it is more a reflection of the labour market. This needs to change.
A constituent in my riding shared with me her experiences with precarious employment. For her privacy, I will refer to her as Ms. Jones. Ms. Jones is a single mother of two boys. One of her sons is on the autism spectrum and thus requires increased care. Her older son is a foster child with his own unique challenges.
Ms. Jones escaped an abusive marriage with only her young son and one bag of personal items. She has worked incredibly hard to support herself and her sons. Ms. Jones currently works full time but has an end date to her contract in three years' time. At her previous job, Ms. Jones worked six days a week as a personal service worker, a difficult and physically demanding job. Despite the number of hours she worked and sacrificing so much time with her boys, Ms. Jones was struggling financially. Distressingly, she was also without any benefits, which is very unnerving for a single parent.
In an attempt to better her family's future, Ms. Jones decided to pursue a master's degree. Unfortunately, student loan debt is now one of the barriers to financial security Ms. Jones is facing. She is paying the monthly payments but is seeing little progress in her loan decreasing. She is unable to save for a down payment on a home and is frustrated paying rent and not paying a mortgage, where she would at least have an asset.
We must be able to assist hard-working Canadians like Ms. Jones to ensure fairness and to prevent personal catastrophe. Ms. Jones says she is one paycheque away from such a fate.
There is no doubt that there are many legitimate social and economic concerns regarding vulnerable employees in precarious employment. The combination of low income, lack of control over scheduling, and lack of benefits, such as pensions, health care, personal emergency leave or sick days, altogether or in various combinations, creates a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety and stress, which undermine the quality of life and physical well-being of a wide swath of workers in our society.
Indicators of precarity, including workers holding multiple jobs, more temporary work and unpaid overtime, are on the rise, though not uniformly and not for everyone. It is evident that the current mechanisms for measuring precarity, its growth and its implications for quality of life on a large scale are inconsistent and inadequate.
How can those who are disproportionately or negatively affected by the changes in the labour market find support? We know that precarious employment is seen mostly among women, youth, and increasingly, older workers and visible minorities.
We must study precarious employment to understand and address the barriers that people, especially people from these groups, face in their pursuit of stable employment. Precarious employment negatively impacts vulnerable workers, as part-time workers are often low-wage earners and are highly concentrated in the retail, accommodation and food service industries.
Clearly, precarious employment transcends the standard versus non-standard work distinction such that forms of employment that are full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary may be characterized by precariousness. In other words, some non-standard work is highly paid, secure and not precarious, while some standard or full-time permanent work is poorly paid and is precarious.
As we see the landscape of the traditional workplace changing due to innovation and technology, we are now seeing fundamental transformation in Canada's workforce. To be clear, some individuals who are choosing alternative forms of work arrangements for flexibility and personal job satisfaction may find that this is suitable to their way of life.
However, this does not reflect all precarious workers. Many are finding themselves as involuntary participants in the gig economy.
In July 2018, BMO released a report on the gig economy. The report states that 85% of companies surveyed in the study foresee an increased move to an agile workplace. In the next few years, employers estimate almost a quarter of their workforce is already working virtually or remotely as part of the agile workforce. For some workers, the flexibility afforded to them by technology in the gig economy is great. There is no doubt that innovation is a positive element of the changing workplace. With innovation changing how we live and work, we see new opportunities but also some new challenges for Canadians.
In 2015, the Ontario Ministry of Labour was mandated to consider the need for labour code reform through the lenses of changes that have been occurring in the workplace and in the economy. After two years of consultation and study, the Government of Ontario released a report in May 2017, “The Changing Workplaces Review”, 2015-16. This report found that the changing nature of the workforce, the workplace and the economy itself, particularly in light of relevant trends and factors operating in our society, including globalization, trade liberalization, technology change, growth of the service sector and change in the prevalence and characteristics of standard employment relationships, clearly demonstrated that changes needed to be made to the provincial labour code.
Undoubtedly, the rise of new technologies and the emergence of the platform economy, such as Uber or Airbnb, are contributing to the transformation of the labour market and will continue to do so. While technology and globalization open up new opportunities and create new occupations, they also contribute to other issues for other occupations.
In recognition of this developing shift, the Government of Canada is focusing on investing directly in Canada's greatest asset, its people. A fluctuating employment landscape requires a responsive and contemporary plan for both employers and the workforce. The nature of work is changing, and we need to understand how it impacts our workers so that we can better protect Canadians and help employers recruit and retain employees.
Members of this House are certainly aware of the measures to modernize the Canada Labour Code in the budget implementation act that was tabled on October 29. I believe that these updates to the labour code would benefit Canadians. These labour code changes were created after extensive consultations to gain a real-world perspective on developing effective policy. Between May 2017 and March 2018, the government consulted with Canadians, stakeholders and experts on the changing nature of work and how federal labour standards could be updated in order to better reflect current workplace realities. One strong message was repeated throughout the consultations: Canadian work has changed but the federal labour standards have not. These consultations also made it clear that there are a number of complex issues related to federal labour standards and the changing nature of work, which required more in-depth review and discussion.
This is the reason precarious employment requires its own study and consultative process. To remedy an issue, we must first define it clearly and then apply standards consistently across this country. While there is a large amount of literature on the topic, significant data limitations for measuring and understanding the impacts of precarious work still exist. For example, specific data on the prevalence of precarious work among the vulnerable populations such as people with disability, newcomers and indigenous people is very limited. Canada must be able to define precarious employment in a structured, cohesive manner so that we can recognize potential indicators of vulnerabilities that are uniformly identified across this great country.
In conclusion, with precarious work federally defined, it would enable us to look to prevention, support and the opportunities for innovation in both the public and private sectors. By having the committee undertake a study, the necessary consultations, witness testimonies and research would be considered, providing the government with a comprehensive and informed definition of precarious employment in Canada.