Workers Health & Safety Centre

Precarious employment impacts health of working women

Woman trapped in a precarious work situation
Women trapped in precarious work situations are suffering at work and because of work, according to a Ryerson University report.
“This research illustrates the extreme and adverse effects of casual, temporary and on-call work on the mental and physical health of women, their safety at work, as well as the health of the communities they care for,” says Winnie Ng, Unifor-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University and principal investigator.
The study, entitled Working so hard and still so poor! A public health crisis in the making documents the experiences of 40 Toronto-area racialized immigrant women “who had taken a leap of faith and migrated to Canada.”
They are employed mainly in the personal services and food-related sectors. Many through temp agencies with two-thirds working more than one job. Most work for minimum wage or less, without benefits or sick days. Many don’t know from week to week, even day to day how many hours of paid work they will actually secure. Stories of racism, sexism and discrimination are shared throughout the report. 
The authors coined the term “precarity capture” to explain the sense of being trapped by these multiple forms of precariousness relating to work, income, family life, health, and immigration status. 
Study participants offered extensive examples of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions including exposure to harmful chemicals, violence, harassment, excessive physical demands along with lack of protective equipment and training. In short, their work situations provided limited, if any access to even the minimum protections offered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
Study participants also offered a laundry list of health impacts ranging from exhaustion and musculoskeletal pain to high blood pressure and depression. The experiences shared by these women made it clear work-related injuries are not often reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
“As just-in-time labour, they are often used, abused and disposed of since they can no longer carry out their duties,” says Ng.
The report offers a range of recommendations including:
  • At least seven legislated paid sick days,
  • Access to personal emergency leave,
  • Joint liability between host employers and agencies providing workers,
  • MOL pro-active enforcement of OHSA in workplaces who continually use agency workers, and
  • Scheduling stability and stronger enforcement of the Employment Standards Act.
“We have a looming health epidemic on our hands that needs urgent attention,” said Dr. Jennifer Poole, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Ryerson University and co-author of the report. “The study provides evidence for the critical need for major legislative reform to support racialized women workers.”
The provincial government is currently reviewing employment and safety laws governing many of the issues brought up in this report.
For our part, the Workers Health and Safety Centre offers a wide range of training programs and resources to help workers, their representatives, supervisors and employers understand and exercise their considerable legal occupational health and safety duties and responsibilities. Many of these programs help employers comply with their significant legal obligation to inform, instruct and train workers including general health and safety awareness training for all workers and supervisors.  
To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative
Want to read about the Ontario government review of the changing workplace?
Want to read the Ryerson report Working so hard and still so poor! A public health crisis in the making?