Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Precarious Existence

The Toronto Star last week concluded an excellent series on the plight of the precariously employed. If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it for the insights and possible solutions offered into what is becoming far too common an employment situation for far too many: irregular hours, absence of security, absence of benefits and perpetual temporary worker classification. The impact of such conditions goes far beyond economic insecurity and includes being forced to put one's life on hold, delaying marriage, having children or, as we used to call it, settling down.

As usual, Star letter-writers offer their perspicacious perspectives on the issue.

Here they are:

Making bad jobs better, Editorial May 25

Congratulations to the Star and reporters Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Laurie Monsebraaten for the series highlighting the plight of the “precariously employed.” For too long have these employees been taken advantage of while they and their families have borne too much of the pain of today’s economic climate.

Businesses are in the business of maximizing profits and while some see the benefits of a stable and happy workforce, too many don’t. Since businesses are unwilling to act, it is clear that the solutions put forth by the Precarity Penalty report can only be attained through government intervention and stronger unions.

Right-wing conservatives have undermined unions such that fewer workers enjoy the security of decent working conditions, fair remuneration, benefits and a pension that will see an individual through his or her golden years in comfort and with dignity.

Conservatives have also convinced those without union support that since they don’t have the benefits secured through collective bargaining, unionized workers shouldn’t have them either, rather than expecting those benefits be extended to all workers. People need to remember that many of the standards that are in place today are thanks to unions and collective bargaining in the past.

As well, over the past 40 years, we’ve been brainwashed to believe that taxes are bad rather than seeing the huge benefit those tax dollars bring to all of our society.
We need bold governments (federal and provincial) that recognize a new and different world from the last generation’s but who are willing to serve the interests of the people in establishing and providing basic standards of living: decent wages and working conditions, affordable housing, medicare, pharmacare, education, affordable daycare, reasonable pensions, and safe communities.

Norah Downey, Midland

I have a solution for “precarious work.” It is to the employers’ advantage to have workers on a temporary or part-time basis, therefore there should be a substantially higher minimum wage than for full time work. This would make up for the loss of benefits and security.

Perhaps a 30 to 50 per cent higher minimum for precarious work would eliminate the unfair advantage to employers.

I have not experienced precarious employment myself, but have friends that have suffered from an employer’s deliberate firing and rehiring and short notice scheduling.

Jim Pike, Brampton

It is highly unlikely that conditions in employment will improve very soon if the issue of poverty can remain unresolved after so much has been written and studied over the years.

Nevertheless, one suggestion that might help to address both issues would be a guaranteed annual income. Employers would have to improve working conditions to entice people to do their jobs to earn profits for their companies.

While much thought and study would be needed to bring this to pass, I believe that capable politicians with the will could implement such an idea.

John Cousins, Bowmanville

How can you build a strong workforce on unpaid internships and volunteers? You can’t.

Your story reported on the stress caused by “precarious employment” and the obscene number of employees who will never know what job security is. Two pages later was a story about the Pan Am Games looking for more “volunteers.” This time the heavily funded games, with a reputation for the “excess of its highly paid executives,” was searching for highly trained medical professionals to work for free.

How did we go from slave labour, to the necessity of unions, to debt-ridden desperate students lined up to volunteer beside desperate parents, and desperate retired seniors?

Our leaders, both in government and the private sector, have failed to meet their duty to society. And yes, I was not paid to write this letter.

Jeff Green, Toronto


  1. I worked precariously in construction until 2002. As one of the writers says, the wages and benefits compensate for the impermanence. I don't see how it can be otherwise in construction - every building simply must be finished sometime. But I find it alarming that industries that are more continuous (education, health, retail for heavens sake!) are doing this to their employees. I'm also really shocked at the number of employers who express dismay at their employee's lack of loyalty and commitment. I don't think any of this bodes well for society.

    1. While there may be defensible reasons for precarious employment in construction Karen, the fact that it has spread to so many other sectors without question confers a great deal of power to employers. Keeping one's workers off-balance and worried about their next cheque keeps them off-balance results in that wonderful euphemism of the 'disciplined worker.'

      Unless progressive governments are willing to legislate to ameliorate this trend, the future is looking increasingly grim for more and more people.

  2. There is a simple economic truth which we have ignored for a long time, Lorne. An economy functions better when you share the wealth. It's not rocket science. But our present movers and shakers function under the illusion that they're the smartest guys in the room.

    1. It has always puzzled me, Owen, that this essential truth should be so widely ignored. Perhaps it has to do with the corporate mentality that never seems to look beyond the next quarter's profits?