Tag Archive | Precarious Employment

Overhaul of the ESA

I’ve talked about this before, and I am probably a broken record on the topic by now. But this is such an important topic that I can’t help continually bring it up.

Work, that’s important. We spend more than 8 hours of our day doing this thing called Work, and the money we earn from it is what keeps us alive, feeds our families, houses us and clothes us. It also determines our lifestyle, our ability to be happy, and is a enormous factor in our health and therefore the quality and length of our lives.

Steve Jobs Work Quote

I say its more than important, and very worth talking about.

You see, in 2009 I made a huge decision for myself. After working crappy jobs for almost a decade that I hated and paid miserably, I looked at a career change to turn my life around. I knew I wanted to help people, that I was a great communicator and wanted to work for a non-profit. I learned about the Career and Work Counselling Program at George Brown and thought to myself “Hey, what better way to help people than to teach them how to find work. I’ll be supporting them in one of the most important areas of their lives! That’s pretty meaningful. I can do that.”

Even back then I sensed that the world of work was broken in many places. If I was miserable, and faced many barriers to a better life, I was sure others were going through the same thing too. And deep down, I wanted to be a part of fixing that.

Six years later and I have sound knowledge and stats to back up my gut feeling from back then: the employment world is truly broken and I can hold up the X-Rays and point out the multitude of fracture points and explain what causes them. And no shocker, Karl Marx was right all along and this does not bode well for the 1%.

I can write about what’s wrong with the labour market for days, but today I want to focus on one of the fracture points, and this one relates to a problem in our own backyard (lets leave Global Factors for another day): The Employment Standards Act (ESA) right here in Ontario.

So back in 2014, when the Liberal Government was re-elected into Parliament under Premier Wayne, one of the promises in the Throne Speech was to focus on employment, and in response the Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn (this guy), decided to launch on February 17, 2015, a full public consultation on the ESA under what they called The Changing Workplaces Review.

The purpose of this review was to evaluate the changes to the workplace due to globalization, advances in technology, the surge in new job roles, etc, etc.

 

The Toronto Star has actually been covering this topic and I have been faithfully following along. In fact,   has been running a series on the ESA and how it affects workers in our city (read her work here, here and today’s article here).

What I find most interesting, in fact even laughable, is that we really don’t need to update the Employment Standards Act to reflect today’s times or 2016.

We need to update it to reflect, umm, I dunno, the 1970’s, or the 1920’s.

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Decades later…still relevant!

Here’s a favourite quote from the Employment Standards official government webpage that further illustrates my point:

“If you are employed in Ontario, you are PROBABLY protected by the ESA”.

Probably. As in “maybe”. Oh, also, good luck navigating all the different guides on the website to figure out if you are covered based on the type of employment you have, or what the ESA even covers in terms of protections and all the different exceptions and loopholes that employers use all the time to take advantage of and exploit Ontario Workers.

probably

We are in a wealthy country, we have a huge workforce and companies in Canada profiting billions upon billions every year, yet somehow our employment policies don’t even protect us from being fired without cause, being paid for overtime, allows all workers the rights to unpaid, let alone paid sick leave, all workers access to minimum wage, or even a minimum wage above the poverty level, and the few protections the ESA does boast, it doesn’t even properly enforce.

The worst part is that Ontario’s weak policies actually ruin lives. And I wouldn’t doubt for a second costs our government billions on the social and health spending that are consequences of this.

We complain about all the taxes we pay in Ontario, and how we worry about all the Government spending we do to implement social programs and anti-poverty initiatives, but what if there are actual ways of reducing poverty and improving our economy that doesn’t involve spending a lot of money? What about improving our policies?

living_wage

You see, we’ve made amendments to the ESA before, but during the vast majority of public consultations and recommendations and reports by advocacy groups, we don’t need more amendments, we need a complete overhaul.

Back in March 24th 2013 I wrote “Me as a Number” , a blog post about precarious employment and in it referenced a very popular study conducted by McMaster University, PEPSO and United Way entitled “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being”.

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To my excitement PEPSO released a new study this year, a follow up to “More than Poverty”, that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The new study, “The Precarity Penalty”, focuses on not only the damages precarious employment has on our healthy and on society in general, but also features an in-depth, detailed list of much needed recommendations not only on the Employment Standards act, but for all levels of government, for government agencies and programs and for employers as well.

Another great study that further drives home the need to make significant policy changes is “Still Working on the Edge” by Worker’s Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services in Toronto. This study has a more dedicated focus on the deficiencies of the ESA and has some real, solid recommendations. It was presented during the public consultations this year for The Changing Workplaces Review.

What I wouldn’t have given to have been able to attend those public consultations and listen to all the stories shared. I would have had many to share on my own as I have been hearing examples from friends, family, and most of all clients who have fallen through the cracks left behind by the current ESA.

Here’s a question for my readers: How well do you know your rights as a worker in Ontario?

Who do you think is covered, or not covered by the ESA? What protections do you even have under the ESA?

When your rights as a worker are violated, whats the process to make a complaint?

How does the Ministry of Labour enforce their own laws, and punish employers who break it, what are you entitled to in restitution if you win your case and how does the Ministry of Labour ensure you get compensated?

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Because here’s what I think: most of you don’t know. 4-5 years ago I didn’t know; I was under the impression that because I lived in Canada I automatically had rights and was protected by the government if anyone tried to treat me unfairly. That 100 years ago, when workers fought their employers for the right to unionize, and all the laws that changed since then, that we had resolved a lot of these issues.

But I was so wrong, and blind, and I bet many Canadians still are. And I’m sorry but we can do so much better.

 

We can implement a living minimum wage above the poverty line. 

We can eliminate exceptions so that all workers no matter the industry have access to the same benefits, whether they are farm labourers, restaurant workers or temporary foreign workers.

We can make sick days mandatory for all workers.

We can protect workers from being fired without cause.

We can make all workers eligible for overtime pay without spreading out the hours over a month.

We can implement harsher penalties for employers who steal wages from their workers, and create a better enforcement unit at the Ministry of Labour so  its easier for workers to make complaints and see their cases resolved sooner.

We can eliminate the loopholes that allow employers to pay different wages or offer different benefits to different employees for the same work.

We can enforce advanced scheduling for jobs that aren’t emergency or essential services, or minimum hours a week for all part time workers.

We can do all of that, and probably a whole lot more. I mean, all of these seem like just basic essentials for a healthy workforce, why is it that hard to implement this?

We work really really hard, I’m pretty sure we deserve it.

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Getting a “Job”: Now harder than being a freelance artist

I just finished reading a blog post, a rant more like it, about how some artists should go GET A JOB.

I felt the desire to comment on it, since based on my own experience, he couldn’t be more wrong. He starts by saying: “GET A JOB. A stable one. 9-to-5. With health insurance and a 401k. GET IT NOW.”  He directs this at artists of my  generation, in their 20’s and 30’s. He says:

“Stop angsting over whether your Art or your Muse will survive Selling Out. Stop saying that your delicate artistic expressiveness can’t cope with an office job. Stop being allergic to money and then wondering why you can’t make rent and your lights are always being turned off.”

The first part made me laugh. A stable 9-5 job with a pension? Why, these days finding one of those sounds just as elusive as scoring a record deal, or successfully selling out your paintings at an art Gallery. It takes what feels like years to score one of those, and as time passes on, the fewer of those jobs will exist. William Bridges predicted the slow decline and extinction of the “job” back when he published his book “Job Shift” in 1992. The ironic thing is that slowly, with the dwindling down of 9-5 jobs, it’s the creative class that is predicted to rise to the top. Yeah, that’s right, those same artists the author of the blog is lecturing at. And here’s why:

Artists already have a lot of the skills necessary to survive in the current job market. Its the same skills that even those handing out the elusive and very much coveted 9-5 jobs are looking for. They are resourceful, quick to adapt to changing environment, able to think outside the box, are used to project based assignments, have the self awareness and ability to self market themselves, and the passion and creativity to get the job done. When I see a “starving artist”, I see someone who understands what the world is really like today, for most people, artists or not. And by the way, most “starving artists” I know do have jobs. Sure, part time, but guess what, most people looking for full time work also have part time jobs. Or temporary contract jobs. Or full time positions with no benefits or pensions. As I’ve mentioned before, in my city alone, half of all workers have some form of precarious employment. That’s just the nature of employment in general. Starving artists are in the exact same scenario as other workers. Except, starving artists are more equipped to deal with it and probably more motivated to do so. They don’t fear the soul sucking “desk job”. They realize that no matter what field of employment you’re in, only the best people get the job, or make the sale. And to be on top, you have to really love what you do.

Yes, we now live in a time where “loving what you do” is not just a blessing, but the best way to survive in such a competitive economy.

I also want to provide an example of how the “artists” who give up looking for the stability of a 9-5 knowing full well that it’s just a myth, how they actually not only survive, but persevere.

My friend Sonia makes jewelry and accessories. It was her way of staying creative after giving up her dream of going into fashion when she decided to take environmental studies in University instead. She wanted to set her parents at ease that she would be able to get a nice cushy 9-5 when finishing her Degree. Well, she finishes her Degree this year and has already told me that selling her line of jewelry has proved to be so successful, that instead of looking for a job in her field of study, she plans to commit to her businesses full time. While working part time at Ikea, taking on a full time study load, she has built herself two very successful jewelry brands that she sells online, at specialty boutiques, and even sells overseas. She’s even been featured in a few magazines and fashion shows. She tells me there is no point looking for a job, she’s making more than enough on her business alone. And I’m a huge fan of her brands COVEN and Quaintrella

If I saw a starving artist, the last thing I would tell them to do is to “Get a Job”. That’s a dead end. The only people I’d recommend that to is someone who wants to get a 9-5 job since they’ll take years to find one anyway. What I would tell a starving artist is this: forget getting a record deal, or living off your work, that’s unrealistic. Find a way to make money. Be creative, look around you. Look for what is needed in the world around you. Learn to match your skills and what you have to offer to that need. Then learn to sell that idea or make it a reality. Learn to sell yourself and your skills. And always do something that you will love and be passionate about, because there is no better way to guarantee your quality.

Me as a Number

Here is my own personal experience just to give a realistic perspective on some numbers:

Statistics say that the average person will hold 7 jobs in their lifetime. I am 28 years old, and I’ve had 13 different jobs since I started working at the age of 17. Of all those jobs, only one of them was full time, and had benefits. Of those 13 jobs, I got laid off twice. Another of those jobs was seasonal. I left 2 other part time jobs because the weekly hours reduced by so much that I couldn’t afford to keep working there. And I couldn’t get a second job because even though I wasn’t getting the hours, I was required under contract to be available during evenings and weekends, and couldn’t commit those days elsewhere. I have never earned more than $14 an hour, or worked somewhere for longer than two years. I was even promoted to a supervisory role once, only to be demoted along with my other newly promoted team mates due to “company changes in supervisory roles”.

I went to college twice, and earned a diploma in Career and Work Counselling. And now I’m being turned away from jobs in my field because no one wants to create entry level positions. They want me to spend more money I don’t have on more courses, and some positions want me to have a drivers license and a car. Or a luxuriously expensive university degree. I’m also expected to work as an intern for free to gain experience.

I just started my 13th job. It’s part time and only 26 hours a week. No benefits. And it’s front reception work. But, at least it’s for a non profit organization, which was what I wanted, and I’m loving it there so far. So, despite my turbulent 20’s, I have to say I still feel grateful.

However, I’m 28 years old, with 11 years of work experience, an impressive array of skills and aptitudes, yet in terms of employment, I haven’t progressed much at all. I’ve done all the right things: I’m hard working, reliable, efficient, I’ve taken risks, educated myself; Sure I’ve made mistakes but I’ve grown from them.I have an amazing resume (so I’ve been told) and I interview quite well (so I’ve also been told), and everyone I have worked for has so many great things to say about me. I have great potential, they say. Which begs the question, why can’t I find financial stability after struggling for over a decade to find it?

Truth is, I’m not alone.

The national average for unemployment sits around the 7% mark. However, youth unemployment, ages 16-25, it sits around the 14%. They are also statistically expected to have up to 20 different occupations by the time they retire (however even I think that number is too low). I’m only a few years older, but the situation isn’t far from my own.

I’ve read all the articles, watched documentaries and read countless books on the topic of our lost generation. Heck, I even spent whole courses at school immersed in the social changes that caused this tremendous shift in the labour market. And here I sit, an example.

According to the report on a collaborative study conducted by McMaster University, PEPSO and United Way entitled “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being”, this is called “precarious employment”, that is, employment that isn’t both permanent or full time. In includes part time work, contract work, work with no pensions or health benefits. Seasonal work or on call positions. Unstable work that offers little to no security or compensation.

And of the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Stoney Creek workforce, a whopping 50% of us have precarious employment. That means half of the working population are in my exact predicament, in constant worry about how we’ll make ends meat, unsure of our futures, frustrated with the mounting pressures placed on us by society. No wonder Depression, anxiety, and bipolar mood disorders are on the rise. 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness at least at some point in their lives.

So, yes, like most of my generation, I feel trapped. I also feel angry because I know it was the corporate greed of the generations before me that caused this, and it was our governments that allowed it, and continue to allow it.

For now, I concentrate on being grateful for what I do have. And a part of me is hopeful that even though my generation is facing tough times ahead, we’ll deal with it, and overcome our obstacles. Maybe this is the generation that will learn to live with less.

I can be a negative pessimist at times, but deep at my core I have faith.

Maybe some good will come out of all of this.