Dangerous Jobs Need Stronger Safety Net

December 2, 2016

– The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies through research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.

CANADA – Canada should strengthen the safety net under workers in precarious jobs, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. In “Precarious Positions: Policy Options to Mitigate Risks in Non-standard Employment,” authors Colin Busby and Ramya Muthukumaran investigate trends in jobs with heightened employment risks and offer policy solutions to support insecure workers.

“Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s comments around getting used to so-called “job churn” combined with the fast approaching conclusion of the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Changing Workplaces Review has put the issue of precarious work front of mind,” commented Busby. “But it would be a mistake for policymakers to emphasize rigid labour legislation over other social policies in search for solutions.”

The authors focus on one type of job classification that intersects with the common definitions of precarious employment – what Statistics Canada refers to as “non-standard work.” These jobs tend to be more insecure than standard employment, often with less benefits and more uncertainty about the predictability of future work. This includes part-time, temporary and unincorporated self-employed workers.

After examining trends in non-standard work in Canada, they find that, contrary to popular opinion, the overall prevalence of non-standard work has stabilized over the last couple of decades.

The authors note that many forces contribute to the creation of non-standard work, including factors such as business desires for flexibility and worker preferences. This, combined with lessons from some international attempts to address specific areas of concerns through blunt legislative tools, militates in favour of looking to options that bolster the social safety net and training options. Interventions to shape employment arrangements with legislation pose significant risks of stymying job creation.

The authors present a list of options to reduce the income-related vulnerabilities and uncertainties faced by many non-standard workers. These include reducing gaps in health coverage, improving Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility, boosting access to social programs, and ensuring uptake of programs that improve access to education and skills training programs for workers.

Muthukumaran concludes: “These options balance the need to mitigate common risks in non-standard work while supporting labour market dynamism.”

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