How To Solve Canada’s Part Time Problem

Published July 2, 2016

Canada’s job market is looking pretty beat up at the moment. Insecurity, reduced hours, fewer benefits, temping, contract work and self-employment are eroding productivity, morale and paychecks across the country.

In 1997 the number of insecure workers (which includes temps, part-time – below 30 hours a week – and contractors) was 1.3 million: it’s now over 2 million.

The Cost of Income Insecurity

Since the recession businesses have started to view staff as a costly burden, rather than an asset. Part-timers are now 19.3% of the workforce, not much below recession levels. Many are voluntary: mothers with young children, older employees approaching retirement, but not all. According to Statistics Canada, 27.3% of these would rather be full time.

The toll isn’t just financial, with insecure workers earning 46% less than those in secure full-time roles. This constant insecurity is emotionally and socially corrosive.

Parents can’t plan ahead, or enroll their kids in extra-curricular activities. Men can feel socially isolated, unable to establish long-term relationships. For many in these kinds of roles, major purchases, from cars to holidays, new clothes, white goods to home improvements, are delayed, sometimes indefinitely.

Cracking Canadian Society

An academic study quoted in The New York Times said that the impact of financial uncertainty is “equivalent to [a drop of] 13 I.Q. points, comparable to the effects of losing a night’s sleep or becoming a chronic alcoholic.”

Micheline Laflèche, a labor studies professor at McMaster University, said, “[insecure employment] hurts our democratic commonality and our democratic values because people don’t feel like they belong. We don’t have a healthy society.”

Lower pay, fewer benefits and less training is a part of temporary working life, which for many is happening during people’s prime professional years, between 25 and 54. As a result, stress and insecurity is weighing down on Canada’s social fabric.

Solutions For The Part Time Problem?

In the UK, the fearful rise of “Zero hour contracts” was talked about during the last parliamentary election, but not viable solutions currently exist.

Meanwhile, Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands have put safety nets in place to protect employees from the harm of employment insecurity.

Australian Answer. With a higher minimum wage of $16.25 (Canadian), employees are in a better position already but given the rise of part-time work, Australia mandated a 25% increase for casual workers. They also have a Fair Work Commission, a federally-funded safety net to monitor wages and working conditions.

Higher Productivity, Greater Security: Denmark. “Flexicurity” is good for employees and employers, since hiring and firing is relatively easy in Denmark. As a result, the Danish government provides generous jobless benefits and training programs.

Equal Benefits: Netherlands. In the Netherlands, most part-timers are eligible for benefits, which means they are treat comparable to their full-time colleagues.

Legislation can fix this, to an extent. But businesses have to start thinking long-term, like Costco, which employs 30,000 Canadians. They guarantee part time staff a minimum of 25 hours, with schedules two weeks in advance and most of their 15,000 part-timers eligible for benefits, sick pay, holidays, and pensions.

Interestingly, Costco is not on this list of retailers closing or downsizing operations across Canada.

A study by Professor Ton at MIT found that investing in staff and providing regular hours ensures they “are productive and can do work without making errors … the result is better jobs, higher customer service, lower prices and great returns to shareholders.”

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