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Identifying vulnerable workers and precarious work


The Law Commission of Ontario recently published their “Interim Report on Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work”, a province-wide study that is designed to provoke public feedback on or before October 1, 2012.  In response to the feedback gathered, the LCO intends to release a culminating report in the winter of 2012.

The report posits that in the past few decades, there has been a rise in part-time, temporary, and casual forms of work in OECD countries , though the study itself focuses on the circumstances as they exist in Ontario. Contributing this shift in the nature of employment types to fluctuating economic stability, which is in turn reflected in the priority of deficit management, a trickle-down effect on individual job functions and how they might be changed to be as profitable (here, meaning least draining on an organization’s finances) as possible is cited as an overall cause. And so, full-time jobs become part-time jobs, or contract jobs, or casual employment. The LCO is trying to create a protective framework to support these workers – a remedy that is more feasible than trying to plateau the global economy’s peaks and valleys.

Why does this matter? Well, employment security alone is momentous enough as a motivator for public attention. According to the definition in the report, we can define precarious work as:

“…characterized by lack of continuity, low wages, lack of benefits and possibly greater risk of injury and ill health… Measures of precariousness are level of earnings, level of employer-provided benefits, degree of regulatory protection and degree of control or influence within the labour process…”

The report states that the types of work most frequently framed by these parameters are indeed part-time, temporary, and casual employment. Full-time employees too can, if not strictly defined by these terms, certainly feel they are not entirely stable in their jobs. The main focus of the report is to attend to low-wage jobs, where workers are most vulnerable to their circumstances. Without catastrophizing unduly, the matter is warranted widespread attention – enough full-time jobs have been squeezed into part-time roles, or downsized altogether leaving those who filled them to suddenly seek new work.

Feedback from employers is also, of course, of great value. An overall lack of knowledge of both employees and their employers regarding their respective rights and responsibilities, especially within this changing model of employment has been identified. The LCO also has the aim to feel out how responsive regulating models (ie, employers, management) are to the changes in types of employment.

In detail, the report lays out which areas of work are the most precarious, who is employed therein, and the factors contributing to these circumstances. The numbers, in this case, have a double function: they are 1) expressed to communicate a set of facts about the state of work in Ontario and the ramifications of these facts on workers, and 2) outlined to open a conversation on the matter, to better access the landscape of workers and employers, and to ensure that workers are granted a voice in the process to create ameliorative change.

Visit the LCO website for more information. They have provided the full report, which is quite readable, as well as  background information, and quick facts and synopses.

Do take the time to respond to the report. You can send a confidential response online, instantly, here.

Lauren Bride
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Lauren Bride

Writer and editor at Hudson's Bay Company
Lauren Bride, B.A. (English Literature / Philosophy) is a writer, copywriter, and editor, working in both fiction and nonfiction. She has done extensive writing and editing for commercial, private, and government clients, as well as story editing and fiction publication. Lauren also volunteers with the not for profit group NABORS (Toronto). Read more
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