Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 194, a private member's motion requesting the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study on precarious employment in Canada.
Before I go to my speech, I want to mention that we had a lot of discussions over the last of couple of days, especially during question period, about the sanctity and independence of committees. It seems that more and more, especially at the HUMA committee, we are having members of the government put through motions on the floor to basically force the committee to do these types of studies. I would encourage members to try to bring their motions to the committee so that it has the opportunity to practise its own independence and we can study the things all of us agree on.
Even though we agree with this subject, a lot of the work that the motion is asking us to do has already been done before. There have been numerous government studies on precarious employment. I believe we will be repeating ourselves a lot over the next couple of weeks. That being said, I will get off my soapbox and get to my speech.
This private member's motion is asking the committee to “develop a definition of precarious employment, including specific indicators, as well as examine current data and options to expand available data”. It also asks us to “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 [regular] Canadians.”
The area I want to focus on first is the request for the committee to develop a definition of precarious employment. I assume this is asking us to better understand the causes and the effects, as well as to conduct any analysis on the topic, including the scope of what is encompassed in precarious employment and what is excepted under that definition, whatever it may be.
However, there are many definitions that already exist of precarious employment, which brings me back to my point that we will be going over roads already well travelled as we do this study.
According to the International Labour Organization, precarious employment simply refers to an inadequacy of rights and protection at work. This can apply to informal work, but also to several types of formal work, including subcontracting, temporary contracts, interim work, certain types of self-employment and involuntary part-time work. These types of employment are more precarious because they are associated with reduced financial security stemming from lower wages, less access to benefits, such as private pension plans and complementary health insurance, and greater uncertainty about future employment income.
Since the 1980s, temporary and contract work and self-employment have grown faster than permanent, full-time employment. Many of the jobs being created are defined by insecurity and uncertainty. By contrast, secure employment offers benefits and a possible better-defined career path. However, over the last few decades, it has become much more difficult to find.
For example, through a study of the Library of Parliament, it is estimated between 27% and 45% of all Canadian workers do not have what we traditionally think of as full-time work. It is a surprisingly large number that at times almost half of Canadians would not be employed in areas that we would traditionally consider to be stable, full-time jobs. Moreover, a large proportion of these non-standard jobs, as high as 25% of the paid workforce, would be considered precarious. That is a big number when almost a quarter of Canadians are working in a sector or job situation that would be defined as precarious.
I would like to turn back to what we are experiencing in Alberta right now, where we have some of the highest unemployment in the country. A lot of that stems from an inability to get resource projects and critical infrastructure built. Those unemployment numbers are really misleading.
Although we have the highest unemployment in the country outside of Atlantic Canada, those numbers are likely higher than what is reported by Statistics Canada. So many of these people who have been out of work are small business owners, contractors, such as pipe-fitters, welders, geologists, physicists, those types of self-employed contractors who have made their living for decades in the energy sector in Alberta, but now find themselves in a very precarious position. That position is likely unemployed.
I have certainly heard from many of my constituents who have not been working for more than two years. In Alberta we are very used to the booms and busts of the energy sector, but this is the first time in my lifetime, in my memory, that I have seen it so dire, where we do not have that light at the end of the tunnel. It seems that every force is working against us, provincial and federal governments that do not support the energy sector.
As part of this study, it is important we expand the definition of precarious employment to include those people who have their own businesses, who are self-employed, who are contractors and that those numbers be included in Statistics Canada's unemployment numbers. That would give us a much more accurate picture of what is going on, not only in western Canada but certainly in other places across the country.
Another reason we see such a high number of Canadians working in precarious employment is the significant and rapid changes in technology. This is being driven by the digital revolution, where many Canadians are finding jobs that simply did not exist six months or six years ago. When I was in college, it was never thought of, let alone dreamed of. These jobs are tied with opportunities around the world. Through the Internet, we are connected to every corner of this globe. There are other demographic changes and these are creating new job opportunities, but also new challenges when it comes to employment opportunities.
In particular, these transformations are contributing to the increase in non-standard forms of employment, such as self-employment, temporary contract work and independent contracting. Non-standard forms of employment offer valuable flexibility to some workers and reduce barriers to employment to those excluded from the labour market.
Non-standard forms of employment should be encouraging Canadians to start their own businesses. We have always encouraged Canadians to do this. Our small business owners are responsible for more than 90% of the jobs created in our country. Small business owners are the foundation of our economy. We want to ensure we encourage them to be successful and give them an atmosphere and policies to ensure they are successful.
As part of the rapid changes in technology and how we do business, not only in Canada but around the world, workers are also exposed to new risks. For example, gig or crowd workers are given contracts for specific tasks and thus have very little job security. They also tend to have little access to social protection.
Non-standard employment is certainly not a new phenomenon, however, we do see a difference in the types of jobs, the social demands and a technological change. With well-paying skilled labour jobs in our natural resource sector disappearing because of poor Liberal policies, Canadians are forced to turn to employment alternatives just to make ends meet.
I want to tell a quick story about one particular small business owner in my constituency, who has a welding company that builds storage tanks and works on drilling rigs in the energy sector. He employed 10 other subcontract welders. Over the last two years, the owner has had to lay off all of his welders and is now trying to find a job outside of his own small business. Those 10 welders as well as this small business owner are not included in the unemployment numbers. He had what is termed as precarious employment before, but now, because of the job crisis in Alberta, his job truly is precarious.
As vice-chair of the HUMA committee, I will be supporting the member's motion. I welcome the opportunity to study precarious employment and the consultations that have been done already.