Precarious employment imposes real and significant costs on vulnerable employees, their households and the wider community. These related costs are often hidden because they can be difficult to quantify and the linkages with employment may be indirect. Although greater public and scholarly scrutiny is needed, mounting evidence points to costs associated with precarious employment in such areas as health, personal and community development, as well as education and training. More difficult to assess is the development of a mindset over time that reinforces the notion that nothing different is possible.
The impact of the low wage dimension of precarious employment is especially telling. To combat low wages, precariously employed workers must either work long hours to secure an adequate income or assume greater responsibility by holding multiple jobs. Temporary migrant workers encounter even more difficult circumstances. Seasonal agricultural workers, for instance, are bound to an individual employer, and not permitted to circulate within the labour market; thus these workers are even denied the inadequate mitigation strategy of multiple job holding.
A. The Strain on Health Outcomes
Precarious employment is linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes. With respect to physical health, vulnerable workers tend to be at greater risk for injuries and illnesses in the labour market. Recent immigrant workers, for instance, are more likely to be engaged in physically demanding work relative to Canadian born workers, and therefore they face increased work-related health risks. Moreover, the dimensions of precarious employment, among other variables, have the potential to raise the occupational health and safety risk burdens of vulnerable employees.
Vulnerable employees may have little practical or perceived access to the complaints processes of their work organization, and to the protective coverage of employment law regimes, making them more susceptible to poor health outcomes. Similarly, the lack of access to health benefits and paid sick days through precarious employment imposes burdens on vulnerable employees to ignore injuries and illnesses and to not seek medical treatment. For migrant workers, admitting sickness may be coupled with fear of patriation or not being invited back by the employer. In some cases, employers do not arrange for OHIP cards for migrant workers, as they are supposed to do, or migrant workers have difficulty reaching a medical clinic or doctor because of lack of transportation. Without paid sick days, vulnerable workers may impose added strain on co-workers and, over a longer term, on the healthcare system.
This understanding appears to extend to mental health issues as precarious employment puts employees under greater workplace stress ranging from tension to exhaustion to depression. Furthermore, the heightened insecurity of precarious employment means workers are forced to live day-to-day not knowing whether they will work enough hours in a day or week to meet basic needs. Workers employed through temporary agencies complain that their contracts can end on very short notice.
B. The Impact on Inter-Personal Relationships
The impact of precariousness in employment can often extend beyond the individual worker to affect his or her personal and community relationships. The insecurity associated with precarious employment results in hidden costs related to strained personal relationships. For many people engaged in precarious employment, time for family and friends is limited. Whether due to working multiple jobs, conflicting work schedules, working long hours or spending free time searching for additional employment, many precariously employed workers enjoy little time to interact with others outside their employment. This can create negative feelings of self-worth and erode personal integrity resulting in an individual worker withdrawing from meaningful non-work social relationships. For others, the instability of precarious employment, both practical and emotional, has become part of the reason that they have not started a family. This is a matter of concern considering that family and friends can serve as a strong support system, which for various reasons may not be available to precariously employed workers. The impact of precarious employment is felt within wider community relationships as well. Precarious employment may leave less opportunity for workers to engage in the development of their community.
C. Limited Access to Education and Training
The limited opportunity available to adults in precarious employment relationships to upgrade their skills or acquire language skills has been cited as a key factor that contributes to long-term economic vulnerability. Temporary migrant workers, because they are not expected to establish permanent residency in Canada, but who may nevertheless eventually do so, do not have access to settlement services that are designed to assist integration into Canadian society. Accessibility to training programs is out of reach for many workers in precarious employment who because of job classification systems are excluded from employer provided training. Often workers are left to pay for their own training in an effort to sustain employment, or raise their chances of securing a better job. Even those with the means to pay for training, a related issue is finding enough time to attend training sessions. Some of them are forced to train while they work multiple jobs – a practice which has negative health impacts and contributes to employment strain.
D. As Vulnerable Workers Age
Workers who have engaged in precarious employment during their working life will suffer ramifications as they become older: they may have to continue to work past the point at which they would otherwise retire; they may be less healthy because of access to fewer health benefits than employees in less insecure employment; they may not have been able to save or to contribute to an RRSP and they are not likely to have a private pension. They may also develop a “mind set” that mitigates against long-term planning, thinking that life could be anything other than “hand to mouth” or that suggests that even when opportunities arise, there are reasons not to take advantage of them.
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