Vital Signs 2015

Insecure employment

What are conditions like for Hamilton workers?

Hamilton has the highest rate across the GTHA of workers in insecure employment – which means less access to benefits and pensions, and increased requirements for flexibility in scheduling.  Insecure employment for Hamilton’s parents also negatively affects their children’s school and extra-curricular experience.

Other highlights:
Job quality

In a McMaster survey of over 8,000 workers across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), led by Dr. Wayne Lewchuk, Hamilton had the highest rate of workers in insecure employment with 57% of workers in this category compared to an average of 51% of workers in insecure jobs across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The characteristics that define insecure employment include few if any benefits, a great degree of variability in pay from week to week, on-call and variable work schedules, and risk of being negatively affected if health and safety concerns or employment rights are raised. The research further divided insecure workers into vulnerable and precarious workers, with precarious workers experiencing the most insecure working conditions. A full 31% of workers of Hamilton’s workers fall into this category, compared to 27% of GTA workers who are precariously employed (chart 25).

Chart 26. Employment security categories, workers aged 25-65, city of Hamilton and GTA communities, 2011 and 2014 (combined)

Chart 25

Data source: McMaster University and United Way Toronto, Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) data file, (2011 and 2014).

In the report, Precarity Penalty, researchers led by Dr. Lewchuk interviewed workers across the GTHA about the effects of precarious employment on their lives. Workers noted effects on their ability to advocate for their rights, negative toll on their health, and added stress in their family life. For example:

“But where the anxiety comes is, am I going to have this job in two weeks? Am I going to be able to pay my bills? Why am I being paid the same as this person who can’t put a sentence together? That’s where the anxiety comes from; it’s not the actual job. It’s everything else that goes along with the job.

The anxiety and the depression can come from really feeling like you’re being treated like shit. That’s where a lot of it comes from.”

“When you’re a contract worker, how do you bring forward something like that [abuse]? If someone is a creep to you in the workplace, how do you stick your neck out when you know you could be canned next week? . . . It’s a really screwed-up power dynamic.”

“The instability. It’s sort of hard to plan long-term, if you don’t have guaranteed income. . . . I put off having a kid for a long time because of that. For a long time, I was sort of hoping I would get a full-time job and then I would have benefits and then whatever; it would be a lot easier to have a mat leave.”

Employer benefits and scheduling instability

Access to benefits is a defining feature of secure employment. Health benefits help workers manage the otherwise large financial burden of unexpected illness along with access to preventative care such as drugs, dental and vision care that reduce the risk of emergency health situations. Getting paid if an employee misses a day of work for illness or family emergencies allows workers to recover more quickly and reduce the spread of any infection to co-workers. Similarly, with increasing lifespans (now reaching 80 years of age in Canada), employer pension benefits reduce the risk of economic insecurity later in life.

In Hamilton, few insecure workers have access to any of these benefits. Only 25% of Hamilton’s insecure workers have access to an employer pension plan, and 21% have employer health benefits (chart 27).

Employers expect greater flexibility from insecure workers, with a majority (48%) of insecure workers sometimes or often facing unexpected scheduling changes, and 14% given less than one week’s notice for upcoming schedules.

Chart 27. Employer benefits and scheduling instability, workers aged 25-65, by employment security categories, city of Hamilton, 2011 and 2014 (combined)

Chart 26

Data source: McMaster University and United Way Toronto, Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) data file, (2011 and 2014).

Impact of insecure employment on family life

Chart 28 shows that children in families where experience insecure employment have more limited access to proper clothing and supplies for school, field trips, extra curricular activities. Half of Hamilton’s insecure workers reported they rarely or ever able to volunteer as coaches or other roles in kids activities outside school (compared to 37% among workers in more secure jobs). The result for many children is unequal access to experiences and opportunities for growth and development. The Precarity Penalty report explains that “when high-income families are more able to invest in opportunities for their children than low-income families, it hinders social mobility and makes it more difficult for children in low-income families to get ahead.”

Chart 28. Ability to pay for and spend time on children, workers aged 25-65 with children, by employment security categories, City of Hamilton, 2011 and 2014 (combined)

Chart 27

Data source: McMaster University and United Way Toronto, Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) data file, (2011 and 2014).