Wynne joins battle against spread of 'precarious' employment

New report says 40% of workers in Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area are working in precarious employment situations that include short-term contract work with little to no job security or benefits.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was impressed by the McMaster University study, which found 40% of GTHA workers are in precarious jobs. (CBC)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she’s ready to tackle the issue of so-called precarious employment in Ontario.

Following a report published Saturday by McMaster University and United Way Toronto, the premier attended a symposium on Monday where she spoke about the next steps in improving job security for Ontario workers.

"I’m glad to see she’s here today to talk about precarity," said Wayne Lewchuk, a labour and economics professor at McMaster University and one of the study’s authors.

"Not all politicians have that word on their lips. She has it and she gets it."

The report found that 40 per cent of workers in Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area are working in precarious employment situations that include short-term contract work with little to no job security or benefits.

Wynne spoke about the economic impact of precarious work and the need for policy makers across all backgrounds to work together to tackle the issue.

"What she really alluded to was a need for an all-sector response: unions, businesses, government and community agencies," said Deirdre Pike, senior social planner with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, who attended the symposium.

Broad implications

The report focused specifically on the broader implications of precarious work. Aside from the obvious financial stress for low-paid workers, the study found that precarious work has a significant impact on a person’s social and personal relationships.

Wynne was particularly impressed by this element of the study, Pike said.

"She was happy that it really addressed those social aspects. The income thing is so clear, but the stress level, the anxiety of people in these situations, isn’t always mentioned."

Wynne also brought along newly-appointed provincial labour minister Yasir Naqvi, which Lewchuk took as a sign of real commitment to change from the provincial level.

"This is the first step in a longer process. We’ve raised a debate and put this on the policy-makers’ agenda," he said.

Rather than making specific recommendations, the report includes examples from other countries of steps to improve job security.

Lewchuk pointed to fixed-contract legislation in the European Union and flexible security policies in Denmark as examples, but said Ontario needs to determine its own way of solving the problem.

Pike said many in attendance had suggestions of concrete efforts to improve job security, such as an accessible, universal child care program and a higher minimum wage.

"There’s also less than 100 employment standards officers responsible for the whole province," she said, adding hiring more inspectors was something former premier Dalton Mcguinty promised, but never fulfilled.

Lewchuk noted the 160 or so people at the symposium asked many questions, making him hopeful that this discussion was just the first step in a process to solve the problem.

"We’re encouraged by what we’re hearing. There was a really positive feeling in the room."