In recent years, more and more Ontarians have found themselves in precarious work situations, situations where they are not receiving the benefits they are entitled to.

Whether it’s because they are part-time, or hired through a temp agency, or doing full-time in-house work as a private contractor, the result is the same. Loopholes in Ontario’s employment standards legislation have created a growing underclass of unprotected workers.

“People need stability. They need to know that they will be able to pay their bills that they will be able to take care of their families and themselves.”

Fully 20 percent of the workforce is employed in precarious situations, with another 20 percent in situations that are borderline, such as receiving a salary but no benefits. The impact is severe and far-reaching. “Precarious work affects health, it impacts family life, and it impacts community life,” says Deena Ladd of the Worker’s Action Centre. “People need stability. They need to know that they will be able to pay their bills that they will be able to take care of their families and themselves.”

Precarious work reaches the full breadth of society

Counter to common perception, it is not just students and other young Ontarians caught in these situations. Increasingly full-time workers, and even professionals, are finding themselves with little option but to accept precarious work.

“There may be less of a financial strain on middle and high income workers,” says Diane Dyson, Director, Research and Public Policy at WoodGreen Community Services, “but it still presents many challenges like child care and future planning. People delay having a family, delay purchasing a home.”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this problem is that unions, the historical solution to labour woes, are largely helpless in the face of current legislation. In many businesses, there are more temporary employees than permanent ones, and it’s no accident that this makes it nearly impossible for the workers to reach a sufficient quorum to
unionize, despite detrimental working conditions.

“The vast majority of these agency workers at plants and factories are working for minimum wage if they’re lucky,” says Richard Wauhkonen, Director of Organizing at the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Locals 175 & 633. “This situation definitely has a detrimental effect on the economy,” adds Mike Mattioli, an Organizing Representative at the same locals.

“If that worker was making a good wage they would be able to afford to put money back into our economy.” The money that could be going to these workers is instead going directly into the pockets of the temp agencies that broker these precarious work contracts in the first place.

Looking to Queen’s Park for reform

To solve this problem, we must begin at the top, with the provincial legislature. We can’t rely on the market to fix itself. “If we rely on the market we will become Uber-fied,” says Dyson. “We need, as a province, to sit down and decide what we require from an employer.”

Fortunately, the government has become more aware of the situation recently and a review of employment legislation is currently under way. With such a large percentage of the population either engaged in, or directly affected by precarious work, one thing is certain: If the current provincial government does not deliver on these much needed reforms, they can count on the issue of precarious work playing a prominent role in the next election.