Number of temp workers jumped by 50% in last 20 years, StatsCan says

The number of temporary workers in Canada increased by 50 per cent in the last 20 years — rising faster than the number of permanent jobs — according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

Permanent employees in Canada up by just 33 per cent

The rise of contract work has done much to fuel the rise in temporary employment over the last 20 years, according to new government data. (Shutterstock)

The number of temporary workers in Canada increased by 50 per cent in the last 20 years — rising faster than the number of permanent jobs — according to the latest data from Statistics Canada.

There were 2.1 million people working temporary jobs across the country in 2018, up from 1.4 million in 1998, according to the agency's Labour Force Survey.

In that same period, the number of permanent employees increased by 33 per cent.

Temporary jobs include contract positions — which end at a predetermined date or when a project is completed — casual and seasonal jobs, according to the data agency.

More people took on contract jobs during those 20 years, according to the report, when "the proportion of term or contract employees increased from 46 per cent to 53 per cent of all temporary employees." 

The sectors with the most temporary jobs were education, health care and social assistance. More than a quarter of the jobs in education were temporary (at 26 per cent in 2018) followed by health care and social assistance (at 13 per cent, combined). 

Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist at National Bank, said temporary jobs in those last two sectors are rising faster than total employment in Canada.

"Excluding those two industries, the temp share of employment has been steady in recent years," he said.

In terms who's filling these positions, women accounted for more than eight in 10 temp jobs in health care and social assistance, while they held nearly seven in 10 of the education jobs.

Overall, women were more likely than men to have a casual, term or contract job in Canada at 85 per cent, compared to 73 per cent for men. However, men were more likely to have seasonal jobs. 

Less pay, fewer benefits

Temporary workers have typically made less than their permanent counterparts — a point supported by StatCan's data, which say temporary workers earned an average of $21.80 an hour in 2018, compared with $27.71 for permanent employees. 

But Josh Nye, senior economist at RBC Economics Research, says the wage gap between the two groups has been shrinking over the last two decades.

"Hourly wages of temporary employees have actually been growing faster than for permanent employees," Nye wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"Temporary employees made 75 cents for every dollar permanent employees made per hour in 1998, but that rose to 79 cents in 2018." 

However, Nye points out that because temp workers are still paid less on average and are a rising share of total employment in Canada, it means average hourly wages in the country are growing at a slower pace. 

"For prime-age workers, a rising share of temporary employment (thus slightly slower wage growth on average) might mean slower consumer spending than we'd otherwise see," Nye said.

"And, to the extent that temporary employees do not receive the same benefits as permanent employees, they might also have to dedicate more of their incomes to things like extra medical coverage and retirement savings."

Rangasamy added it would be ideal if the temporary job share of the overall market declined, because those jobs tend to be paid less generously than permanent employees.

However, Nye said there are some positive factors from the rising number of temporary workers in Canada, depending on the age of the demographic.

"If younger people are working temporary jobs that allow them to pursue further education, their lifetime incomes might be higher," Nye said. "And, if older people are choosing to stay in the labour force for longer by working a temporary job rather than retiring, that would be positive for their incomes."