EVEN HAVING A JOB DOESN’T HELP. A healthy majority of more than eight in ten workers say they have too much to worry about, too much stress.
There is the worry about whether your paycheck can cover rent and food, deciding which bill to pay this month, or not knowing if you’ll be paid at all. Never mind the fact that you receive no pension rights, no benefits, or no sick pay. These are all typical thoughts going through workers’ heads, particularly as precarious, low-wage and insecure employment explodes across Canada.
According to a March survey by Hanover Research, 83 percent of Canadian workers say they regularly feel stressed out about their pay and have to deal with money problems. Just 28 percent said they felt happy about how their employer pays staff.
The strain this puts workers under affects all aspects of their lives. The Hanover study points out that stressed workers find it harder to maintain healthy relationships with co-workers and friends. Additionally, prolonged stress is associated with health problems.
A 2017 report by the Ontario Federation of Labour found that one in three workers complained of mental or physical health problems arising from precarious work.
The Hanover survey exposes the stress-filled reality behind the official “good news” of high employment touted by government and bosses. The good news part of their story is based on the fact that the unemployment rate of 5.4 percent has never been lower in Canada, and that job creation is booming. However, their story is careful to avoid any consideration of what kind of jobs are on offer.
The untold part of the story is that for most workers, from food delivery workers to postal workers, manufacturing employees, university lecturers, and workers in the energy sector, employment is short-term, unpredictable, poorly-paid, and demanding. In Ontario, for example, at least 41 percent of all jobs are done outside of the traditional norm of full-time, permanent employment.
Precarious work doesn’t just impact a few areas of the job market. Last year, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives produced a report revealing that more than one in five professionals worked in precarious conditions, including people with high levels of education and experience. One in five jobs in healthcare and three in ten in education are precarious.
“We are talking about people here who, quote unquote‚ 'did everything right',” explained Ricardo Tranjan, a CCPA senior researcher. “They went to university, they passed professional exams, they were told they would have a job waiting for them. And it’s not necessarily there. It is a sort of broken promise in our social contract.”
This is a crucial point, because there is nothing inevitable about such a high percentage of workers constantly dealing with money problems. The fact that over eight in ten Canadian workers stress about their financial situation is due to definite policy decisions that can be changed.
Ever since the beginning of the so-called economic “recovery” after the 2008-09 financial crisis, new jobs pay less, offer fewer benefits, and are less secure. The financial resources that could go to creating decent-paying, secure employment opportunities have been diverted into the stock market, increasing the riches of the wealthy. Corporate and personal taxes for the wealthiest members of society have remained low.
As a result, the top 100 CEOs earned 197 times the wages of an average worker during 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available. Commenting on these figures, CCPA economist David McDonald noted, “[I]mmense wealth continues to circulate through the economy–it’s just not making its way into the hands of the average worker.”
Fighting for change
One way that workers confronting underpaid and insecure jobs can fight back is to organize. Take the example of Foodora couriers in Toronto, who have rejected the bogus claims about the benefits of their “flexible” jobs and are establishing a union. Their goal is to secure collective bargaining rights as part of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Collective bargaining puts workers in a stronger position to enforce the kinds of job protections that ensure fair treatment by employers.
However, major policy changes are also required to tackle precarious and low-paying jobs. A good beginning would be the overturning of the decision by the right-wing governments led by Jason Kenney in Alberta and Doug Ford in Ontario to scrap minimum wage increases that would at least have offered some protection for low-paid workers.
Campaigns also need to push for a stricter regulation of temp agencies, which often ruthlessly exploit workers for a pittance without taking responsibility for their safety and wellbeing on the job. Ultimately, companies and their wealthy owners must be made to contribute more so that decent-paying, socially-secure jobs can be guaranteed for all.
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