Freelance and contract-based workers are becoming the norm in the Canadian workplace, and one advocacy group is campaigning for legislative changes to offer more protection for these kind of workers.

Andrew Cash, a former politician, is the co-founder of Urban Worker Project. Cash brought together freelancers and labour experts Saturday at the first Skill Share Series event in Vancouver in an effort to prompt discussion and change.

The voices of precarious workers and the issues they face need to be pushed into public discussion, Cash told CBC's host of The Early EditionRick Cluff.

"This is no longer a labour sector that you can ignore," said Cash, who was an NDP MP for Toronto's Davenport riding between 2011-2015.

Cash said legislative changes are needed to reflect the current labour market and offer more protection for workers.

"Some of these labour standards and laws haven't been updated in 25 years, since the dawning of the fax machine," he said.

Urban Worker Project is advocating for equal pay and equal benefits for contract workers which, Cash said, will help address the precariousness of the current labour situation.

Andrew Cash

Andrew Cash, co-founder of Urban Worker Project, has worked as a freelancer for the past 25 years. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

Millions self-employed

Approximately 2.7 million Canadians are self-employed, according to Statistics Canada, and more than 1.8 million are temporary workers on contract, casual or seasonal jobs.   

In the United States, 50 per cent of workers are expected to be freelance or contract-based by 2020. Cash said a similar trend is happening across Canada and the traditional framework for understanding employment is shifting.

"When I started working as a freelancer, we were a tiny corner of the labour market where all the ne'er-do-wells who didn't want bosses stayed," Cash said

He was a singer and journalist before entering politics.

"But now what we're seeing is just ubiquitous across all sectors, including the public sector."

In Vancouver, Cash said, the sectors that are growing the fastest are ones that rely on contract work such as the arts and culture, tech and and film sector.

"The challenge now is how do we build broader supports and a stronger floor upon which all workers can stand," he said.

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the interview, click on the audio link on the upper left corned called Freelance sector taking over traditional employment