Each day, more Canadian workers are facing more instability due to the changing nature of work.
Today, the majority of jobs being created are precarious in some way. That is, they are temporary, contract, or part-time, usually without benefits. This shift that Canada and almost all western nations are facing is due to trade liberalization, globalization, privatization, and corporate greed.
In the Greater Toronto Area-Hamilton corridor, a staggering 52 per cent of workers are in temporary, contract, or part-time positions, according to a recent United Way/McMaster University study.
Precarious workers are twice as likely as those in stable jobs to report mental health problems and six times more likely to delay starting a relationship because of job uncertainty.
The Province of Ontario is about to take a multifaceted approach to these problems. While we won’t know all the details until later this month, we know that part of their strategy will be reducing the barriers to unionization.
Levels of unionization have strong causal ties to higher living standards. In Sweden, for instance, which has a very high standard of living, the National Mediation Office reports that in 2014 union density was 83 percent in the public sector and 65 percent in the private sector. Compare this to Canada. From 1981 to 2012, Canada’s unionization rate declined from 38 percent to 30 percent, with most of the decline occurring in the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of deregulation and privatization.
The Ontario Liberal government will also put pressure on employers to prove that their part-time or contract workers actually need to be part-time or contract. In other words, the obligation shifts to the employer to prove this is necessary.
A much higher minimum wage is also on the horizon – likely something akin to Alberta’s $15 an hour. A higher minimum wage is seen as being crucial to the wellbeing of citizens, given the rise of so many entry level service jobs.
Mandating that employers must offer three weeks of vacation instead of two is also going to be part of the government’s legislative package. This simply brings things in line with most industrialized nations.
Of course, the Liberals have already created their much-publicized basic income guarantee pilot in three centres. First it will be launched in Thunder Bay and Hamilton/Brantford this spring, with Lindsay’s pilot kicking in this fall.
A basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.
The Province will test whether or not a basic income helps those who are stuck in precarious work. The plan is to invite a mix of people into the program, such as those who are working but not working enough to stay out of poverty, those who are currently on social assistance, and homeless people.
The basic income model Ontario has developed will ensure that eligible participants receive:
- Up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 percent of any earned income
- Up to $24,027 per year for a couple, less 50 percent of any earned income
- Up to an additional $6,000 per year for a person with a disability.
Participants currently receiving child benefits, such as the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) and the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB), will continue to be eligible to receive them during the pilot. The hope is that a basic income will support people to begin or continue working, or to further their education. Participants in the pilot will be able to increase their total income by combining a basic income with 50 cents from every dollar they earn at work.
In other nations, basic income policy has been shown to strengthen social capital formation and create greater civic engagement in communities, as well as create significantly better health outcomes.
The Bottom Line
Making it easier to unionize, putting the onus back on employers to prove they can’t create more full-time jobs, increasing minimum wage and vacation time, and launching basic income pilots are all part of a commendable strategy by Ontario’s Liberals to reset the labour landscape.