Our guest blogger is Dr. Wayne Lewchuk, co-author of The Precarity Penalty: The impact of employment precarity on individuals, households and communities―and what to do about it. Wayne is also a professor at McMaster University’s School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics.
Today, PEPSO, a research partnership between United Way Toronto and McMaster University releases its new report, The Precarity Penalty: The impact of employment precarity on individuals, households and communities―and what to do about it. The Precarity Penalty examines the social and economic effects of short-term and insecure employment. It asks, what are the challenges facing workers in short-term employment in terms of getting ahead, establishing healthy households and participating in community life. The findings are troubling.
Uncertain future employment prospects can increase anxiety at home. Lack of benefits can make even small unexpected medical costs a crisis. Unpredictable work schedules can make finding suitable childcare very difficult. The short-term nature of the employment relationship can limit a worker’s access to the training needed to get ahead. Together, the added challenges associated with insecure employment represent The Precarity Penalty.
In short, precarious employment not only creates significant stress on individuals and families today, it also creates conditions that can trap those who are in precarious employment from opportunities to get ahead.
Given that insecure employment is the fastest growing form of employment, we should all be concerned about what this means for our families, our children and our communities.
A new body of research (see references below), much of it focused on the troubles in the U.S. economy, suggests that public policy has fallen short, and at times exacerbated the challenges facing precarious workers. These policies have exposed workers to more economic uncertainty, reduced supports that help build healthy families and made it more difficult than in the past for workers to negotiate improved working conditions. There is evidence that Canada’s own public policy environment has not fared much better in terms of protecting vulnerable workers.
What policy has enabled, policy can change. It is not inevitable that a growing number of Canadian workers find themselves in relationships that make it difficult to get ahead. The mechanisms we use to regulate labour markets, including how contracts are negotiated, how we set and enforce employment standards, how we support workers between jobs, how quality training is provided, and how workers can finance unexpected health costs and old age were all formed when permanent full-time employment was the norm.
We need to revisit these mechanisms in light of the spread of less secure employment and ensure that our public policies match the realities facing Canadians today.
Other countries have accepted this challenge. Canada can do the same.
David Weil, The Fissured Workplace
Lawrence Mishel, The State of Working America
Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality