Job quality in Canada at 25-year low, says CIBC

Not happy in your job? Feel like you can’t get ahead? A new study by CIBC Economics says you may have good reason to be frustrated.

Part-time and low-wage work on the rise, and the problem is getting worse

Young people struggle to get established in the workforce when much of the work available is part-time or temp work with low pay. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Not happy in your job? Feel like you can’t get ahead. A new study by CIBC Economics says you may have ample reason.

CIBC says its index of Canadian employment quality is at a 25-year low, and nothing the Bank of Canada can do to adjust interest rates is likely to fix the situation.

In fact, its job quality index has been trending down for the past 25 years and is 10 per cent below its level in the 1990s, the CIBC report said.

That means more people are working part-time instead of full-time, more people are self-employed instead of having secure employment and more are in low-wage jobs than at any time in the last 25 years, says CIBC economist Benjamin Tal.

"The damage caused to full-time employment during each recession was, in many ways, permanent. That is, full-time job creation was unable to accelerate fast enough during the recovery to recover lost ground,” Tal said in a release.

10 years as a part-timer

At a CBC Toronto town hall called Just-in-Time Jobs held earlier this week, one participant described finding her first full-time employment at age 31, after 10 years of working part-time or on contract.

She said she doesn’t know how the Canadian economy can grow, when people her age are making so little money that their lunch is a tin of tuna.

"If we have a whole army of people who are buying lunches in a can, we’re not going to stimulate the economy and create the kind of jobs that would enable people to make a decent living," said Wayne Lewchuk, a McMaster University professor who has researched precarious employment.

Lewchuk was part of a panel that debated why barely half of working adults in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area have full-time, permanent jobs with benefits and some degree of security.

"I think it’s important to understand that Canada's a rich country – the GDP per capita keeps going up, the problem is that we’re not sharing that wealth at all equitably. In many ways, we’ve gone back to 1920s mentality," he said.

More low-wage jobs

CIBC found in its study that self-employment is on the rise, with 1.6 per cent more self-employed people in January 2015 than a year earlier, while more secure employment was up just 0.5 per cent.

And the full-time jobs that were created tended to be a lower quality with lower pay, it found.

"Over the year ending January 2015, the job creation gap between low and high-paying jobs has widened with the number of low-paying full-time paid positions rising twice as fast as the number of high-paying jobs,” Tal said.

He pointed to the weak bargaining power of people in low-wage and part-time jobs and said they have little prospect of wage gains that might outstrip inflation.

CIBC’s index is based on Statistics Canada figures about job growth and distribution, as well as research into income in 100 industry groups.

Tal said the long-term trend to declining job quality indicates the problem is structural and cannot be fixed by juicing the economy with lower interest rates. 

Dealing with temp agency

Acsana Fernando, one of the participants at the Just-in-Time Jobs Town Hall, said she works three 16-hour days in a row at a group home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to support her family. She is employed by a temp agency, and when she asked to work directly for the group home, was told she would lose all seniority and would have to start with just four hours a week.

“Why can’t we have decent jobs? Why do we have to have a temp agency?” she asked.

Panelist Deena Ladd, a co-ordinator at the Worker’s Action Centre, said employers take advantage of the precarious labour market to force difficult conditions on workers.

“Partly right now with the labour market, a lot of people are afraid to speak out about violations of rights on the job, because it will mean losing that job,” she said.

People have to pay the bills and take care of their family, so they put up with it, Ladd said.

“Most workplaces are using temp agencies and putting workers in the worst shifts – on the weekend that no one wants and also paying them to do the same work as someone else but with no benefits,” she added.


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