Photo: flickr/Jef Safi

A new study released today confirms the broad ranging consequences of precarious labour in urban areas of southern Ontario.

In 2013, PEPSO, a research partnership between United Way Toronto and McMaster University conducted a major study on precarious labour in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas. Using data collected from a survey of over 4,000 workers and 28 in-depth interviews, The Precarity Penalty, released today, builds on those findings.

“The first study generated some questions that we wanted to look at in more detail,” said Wayne Lewchuk, co-author of the report and Professor at McMaster University’s School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics. He explained that revisiting the study three years later has allowed PEPSO researchers to take note of some changing trends within the labour force, and to address some of the issues that came up in their earlier study more thoroughly, such as discrimination, access to child care, and job training.

“One thing that surprised us a bit — and whether it’s a trend or whether it just reflects that we actually underestimated the level of insecurity in the labour market last time, I don’t know — but we are actually seeing a decline in the number of people who are in permanent, full-time jobs with benefits and an increase in the number of people who are in temporary jobs or full-time jobs but not being paid benefits, or jobs they don’t know are going to continue,” said Lewchuk.

Lewchuk’s study shows that nearly 44 per cent of working adults face some level of precarity, a fact that Statistics Canada labour force data doesn’t always show. While roughly half of this group work in temporary or contract employment, the other half work jobs that might on the surface appear stable, but in reality contain many of the characteristics of precarious labour, such as irregular and inconsistent scheduling and a lack of any benefits beyond basic wages.

While the report shows that job insecurity is on the rise across all demographics and income levels, findings indicate that racialized communities, and in particular racialized women, are the hardest hit, and face significant barriers that prevent them from achieving higher degrees of job stability.

“Not all groups seem to have changed in the same way between the two studies,” said Lewchuk. “For racialized workers both men and women, there’s been somewhat of a deterioration in both the level of security of employment but also in compensation.”

“Men have also generally experienced a decrease in the security of their employment and I think that’s a reflection of what’s continuing to go on in the manufacturing sector,” Lewchuk explained, adding that white women were actually the only group who reported an increase in secure employment and a decrease in precarious employment over a three-year period — a change which Lewchuk attributes to the high union density in sectors traditionally dominated by women, such as health, education, and the public sector.

People in precarious jobs earn 51 per cent less than those in stable, secure work, and live in households with 38 per cent lower income. But, as the study also shows, job insecurity has more subtle and far reaching impacts on the health and vitality of individuals and their communities. 

Workers in precarious employment are more likely to report depression and poor physical and mental health, compared to those with more secure employment. Not unexpectedly, employment insecurity also puts a strains on communities and families, since precarious workers have less time and money to invest in their children and neighbourhoods.

The report makes several policy recommendations to address these issues, including the expansion of existing social security provisions which, in a bygone era, were assumed to fall under the jurisdiction of employer-provided benefit plans.

“The whole issue of benefits, from simple things like drugs and dental benefits and life insurance to pension plans, people in precarious employment are being shut out of those things,” Lewchuk explained. “I think these are things that would make life a lot more tolerable for people who are in these insecure situations.”

Two other critical issues are child care and job training, both of which can be prohibitively expensive and unmanageable for low-income earners working irregular and unpredictable hours.

Increasingly, workers are expected to bear their own training costs, making it hard for workers to advance their careers or procure stable work in any traditional sense.

Ella Bedard is’s labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.

Ella Bedard

Ella Bedard

Ella is a historian-come-journalist with fickle tastes and strong progressive principles. She has written about labour issues for and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the...