Solutions to precarious work in Ontario: new report

Toronto’s Workers’ Action Centre released a new report today, Still Living on the Edge: Building Decent Jobs from the Ground Up, which addresses cultural, legal, and social issues facing Ontario’s workers.

Using a combination of policy analysis, data collection, and first-hand accounts of workers’ lives, the report paints a full picture of the state of employment in the province.

It comes at a time when the province is reviewing employment standards in Ontario. Many organizations will be weighing in – including the CCPA – but today the Workers’ Action Centre has come out with some important recommendations that could improve the lives of workers.

The report highlights the growing precarity of work in Ontario: full-time work has increased 16 percent since 2000, while part-time and temporary employment has increased by 25 percent and 40 percent respectively. Today, 41 percent of work is done outside the traditional “standard, full-time, permanent employment contract with a single employer.”

The province’s Employment Standards Act hasn’t kept pace with these developments in work culture and, as a result, there are few protections in place for precarious workers.

At the same time that employment practices have changed in terms of worker hours and job security so, too, have the wages for that work.

The Workers’ Action Centre report cites a Statistics Canada study that tracked median wages for part-time, full-time, and temporary work. For men, the gap between the median wage for part-time and full-time work is 47 percent. For women, it’s 57 percent.

The report recommends that the Ontario government regulate the working conditions of those working outside the full-time model, to prevent discrepancies in wages for those in part-time or temporary employment, as well as discrepancies in job benefits and scheduling.

Many of these measures have been undertaken in the European Union. In Canada, Quebec’s Respecting Labour Standards Act has prevented employers from “paying an employee less than other employees doing the same work, solely on the basis that they work fewer hours each week.”

Still Living on the Edge also tackles the prevalence of temporary agencies in the province and their role in lower wages, precarious work, and feelings of helplessness among Ontario workers. Working for temp agencies can have severe effects on workers’ sense of security and ability to ask for equal protection under the law.

The report puts forth a series of recommendations to improve on protections for temporary agency workers put in place in the Employment Standards Act in 2009 and 2014. These recommendations include prohibiting long-term temporary assignments and ensuring that client companies and temporary agencies are jointly responsible for all rights under the Employment Standards Act.

The report’s recommendations range from changing overtime structure to more meal breaks for workers on the job, but it also emphasizes the reality that none of these plans can be put into place without “active enforcement of minimum standards in workplaces.” Active enforcement is the key to changing worker-employer relations for the better and ensuring that workers are protected on the job.

The current model of reporting employer malpractice under the Employment Standards Act is premised on employees reporting their problems. This can result in an employee being fired for speaking out against their employer and it also results in a governmental “reactive compliance model” that is slow to address the many issues faced by individuals across the province.

Workers’ Action Centre recommends a proactive model of Employment Standards Act enforcement as well as a deterrence model that encourages employers to comply with the stipulations of the Employment Standards Act.

The report also calls for the implementation of an anonymous and third party complaints system for workers under the Employment Standards Act “that recognizes the power imbalance in the workplace preventing workers from filing complaints while they are still on the job.”

The findings in Still Living on the Edge add to a growing body of research demonstrating a negative trajectory for the province’s workers in terms of job security, safety, and satisfaction. This report provides clear policy solutions going forward in the fight for decent work and fair wages for all Ontarians. Just in time for provincial consultations.

Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite is a communications assistant with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario office. Follow CCPA-Ontario on Twitter: @CCPA_Ont

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