The impact of precarious work not only has short-term implications, but also may have long-term implications for many areas of a person’s life.
A. The Impact of Legislation on Working Conditions
Workers who work the required hours to receive certain benefits may not be eligible for them because the hours are acquired through working for different employers. They may also not have access to leaves under the ESA, 2000 because they may be available only to employees working for employers with 50 or more employees, for example.
Workers who work temporarily for different employers may not accumulate sufficient hours with any one employer to benefit from protections based on length of service, even though the statutes do not explicitly distinguish between full-time or permanent employees and temporary employees. Examples are that employees employed for fewer than three months are not entitled to notice of termination or if employed for fewer than five years, are not eligible for severance pay. A worker who has recovered from a workplace injury has no right to be reinstated in employment under WSIA, 1997 if she or he had not been continuously employed for at least one year at the time of the injury. Temporary employees who are now employees of a temporary employment agency are more likely to be able to benefit from these rights than those who find their own work, although their actual access is established separately in the ESA, 2000.
Domestic workers are not excluded from the protections of the ESA, 2000; however, it is difficult for them to enforce their rights, given their employment in their employers’ homes, as well as in many cases because of their immigration status, language and gender. They are excluded from the OHSA and from taking collective action under the LRA, 1995, however. Homeworkers (people who conduct paid work in their own homes for a business) may also find enforcing their rights difficult because of their isolation.
Because many statutes relate to the employment relationship, some vulnerable workers, considered to be “(in)dependent contractors” or otherwise self-employed, do not benefit from them, even though they may be subject to a large degree to the control of someone else. For example, they do not receive protection under WSIA, 1997 unless they pay their own premiums.
The ESA, 2000 is amended on a regular basis. Of particular note are recent improvements to the situation for workers who obtain work through temp agencies (referred to above), as well as for live-in caregivers. In June 2006, the Ontario government extended the OHSA to include coverage for paid farm workers in specified types of provincial farming operations.
In December 2009, four migrant workers were killed and one seriously injured when they fell from scaffolding as they were working on the balcony of an apartment building. In May 2010, the Ontario government announced an increased review of construction sites and enforcement of the health and safety requirements on construction sites. In August 2010, the Ministry of Labour pressed charges under the OHSA against two companies and against individuals; criminal charges were laid in October 2010. Ontario has also decided to appoint a single person to oversee all workplace health and safety training, now the responsibility of several agencies.
The ESA, 2000 contains provisions relating to reprisals against workers who complain about their working conditions. Vulnerable workers are often reluctant to make a complaint because they are reliant on the job, fear greater retribution or lack the knowledge or skills to complain, despite information available in several languages on the Ministry of Labour website. Migrant worker may be repatriated at the behest of the employer or may not be invited to return.
The above discussion identifies some of the problems with protective legislation for workers performing various kinds of precarious work. Part IV of the Background Paper explores the impact of the legislation in greater detail for those who wish more information.
Are there other ways in which the protective legislative regime is less effective for workers engaged in precarious work than it might be for other workers?
Are you able to provide specific experiences with the protective legislative regime that would assist us with understanding this issue more fully?
B. The Impact on Daily Life
“Vulnerable” workers are not only vulnerable in their workplace(s), often including facing greater physical risks, but may also face challenges in their daily lives as a result of performing precarious work, with respect to their family and social/community lives, their and their families’ health, opportunities to improve their lives and their old age, for example.
The conditions of precarious work often mean that vulnerable workers live in poverty or close to it. Addressing the conditions of precarious work is therefore relevant to the Ontario government’s Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy, launched in December 2008. Section 2(2) of the Poverty Reduction Act, 2009, S.O. 2009, c.10, acknowledged “the heightened risk [of poverty] among groups such as immigrants, women, single mothers, people with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and racialized groups”, groups who disproportionately engage in precarious work.
Because of the low pay, workers often need to work at more than one job or must work long hours, making them susceptible to illness The health of vulnerable workers is affected, not only perhaps by the work itself, but also because lack of access to extended benefits may mean they are reluctant to seek medical care. They may resist taking time off for illness because of fear of losing their jobs. For migrant workers, admitting illness may raise fears of repatriation or of not being invited back the next year. Employers are responsible for arranging the OHIP cards for migrant agricultural workers; they do not always do so. Mental health may be affected by stress and heightened insecurity. Some workers may change jobs often, requiring on-going adjustment to employers and conditions. Yet others, specifically migrant workers, cannot change employers and can hold only one job, regardless of their working conditions.
Given the demands of multiple jobs or the time needed to seek new or additional employment, there may be little time to spend time with family or developing friendships. When both members of a couple are engaged in precarious work, conflicting schedules may make it more difficult to maintain their own relationship or to spend the time they want to with their children, if they have a family.
There may be little time for workers in this kind of work to acquire training to enable them to find more stable, better-paying work. They may be excluded from employer training programs. They may have little time to improve their English or French language skills or have access to settlement programs.
Vulnerable workers who have done this kind of work for most of their working life enter old age with few assets and without financial supports such as a pension.
Are there other costs to vulnerable workers in their daily lives that have not been identified here?
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