Workers Health & Safety Centre

Growth in precarious work driving federal labour standards overhaul

The Federal government says it will introduce legislation this fall to change rules of work to better address the realities of the modern workplace and harmful working conditions.
“While many concerns were raised during our consultations, one message was clear: Canadians want more work-life balance,” explained Federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patty Hajdu. "A modern set of federal labour standards will better protect Canadian workers and help set the stage for good quality jobs, especially for workers in part-time, temporary or low-wage jobs, many of whom are struggling to balance work and family.”
Federal labour standards, outlined in the Canada Labour Code, establish basic rights such as hours of work, access to leave(s), along with severance and termination conditions for the 900,000 workers in federally-regulated private sector industries.
The majority of the current standards were developed in the 1960’s when workers were generally employed in full-time, permanent jobs with living wages and benefits. These jobs are no longer the norm.
Instead, precarious work, characterized by instability, inadequacy of rights and protections, low wages and little or no access to benefits, is all too common. In fact, research suggests between 30 and 40 per cent of workers in Canada are employed precariously. This includes short-term contracts, temporary and on-call jobs, along with involuntary part-time employment. Further still, some must juggle more than one precarious job in order to make ends meet.

Inadequacy of current labour standards

The government recently published a report summarizing what they heard from workers, employers and other stakeholders about the current state of work, how current federal labour standards fall short, and what new standards should look like.
Many workers, their representatives, advocacy groups and experts cited the complete lack of protection relating to unpredictable hours and scheduling,along with cancelled shifts.
In a recent study of workers in southern Ontario, one in five workers reported not always knowing their work schedule at least one day in advance. More than five per cent reported almost never knowing their work schedule one day in advance. Among other things, these conditions create challenges in terms of arranging child care, attending school, juggling multiple jobs or just paying the bills.
Federal labour standards are also completely void of rules pertaining to time off between shifts — shifts that allow for rest or family/community life (Employers governed by current Ontario provincial standards must ensure at least eight hours between shifts).
Also highlighted in the consultation summary report are the added challenges faced by those employed through temp help agencies including the higher risk for injury. Further, the growing demand for workers to stay connected to work electronically and around the clock was also discussed in the report.

Health and economic impacts

At the heart of existing federal work rules are significant worker health and economic impacts.
More than one in four Canadian workers say their daily lives are highly stressful, according to Statistics Canada. And more than 60 per cent of those “stressed” report work-related issues as the main problem.
In any given week, as many as 500,000 Canadians will miss work because of mental illness. Affected workers are suffering irritability, anxiety, depression and other mental injuries. Research also suggests stress is a significant contributing factor to health impacts ranging from the common cold and musculoskeletal disorders to heart disease and cancer. In fact, stress is currently listed as a high-priority exposure for review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
For businesses, mental illness is estimated to cost the Canadian economy in excess of $50 billion dollars annually. Mental illnesses account for approximately 30 per cent of short and long-term disability claims, the fastest growing disability claim in Canada.
Research also suggests precarity itself impacts the economy. In a 2015 report published by Toronto Dominion Bank, economists wrote, “Without the assurance of the income security that comes along with stable employment and hours, and the matching wages and benefits, consumers lack the confidence to spend.” They went on to explain how this results in otherwise lower profits for business, less investment, lower tax revenue to government and adds to government spending for those in need.
According to Federal Labour Minister, Hajdu, the government will carefully consider what they heard from the various stakeholders before introducing new federal employment legislation this fall.
Meantime, recent media headlines have reported Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford has vowed to roll back recent improvements in Ontario employment law, improvements which include fairer work schedule rules and safeguards for temporary workers.

Related WHSC resources

For our part, Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist workplace parties through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about hours of work, work stress and many other factors hindering the pursuit of work-life balance and healthier work.

To learn more:
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative
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