This is why workers are fed up with Ontario's precarious, low-wage economy


Having a job in Ontario isn't the same as it used to be.

Two recent reports released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Workers' Action Centre point to a continuing trend of precarious, low-paying jobs and deepening inequality in Canada's biggest province.

The Government of Ontario is now conducting a review of the province's labour laws, and workers are campaigning to put fair wages and working conditions on the top of that agenda.

Here are a few of the problems workers are taking issue with:

Ontario's low-wage workforce has grown for two decades 

Total employment in Ontario has grown by 30% over the past 20 years, but at the same time, the low-wage workforce has grown by a staggering 94%.

Between 2004 and 2014, low-wage jobs have increased from 22% of the province's overall workforce to 33%.

And while 2.4% of Ontario's population earned the minimum wage in 1997, that number exploded five-fold to 11.9% in 2014.

According to Statistics Canada, the vast majority of these minimum wage earners are over 20-years-old.  



More precarious jobs are being created than full-time jobs 

Since 2000, part-time work in Ontario has grown by 25% while temporary jobs have risen by 40%.

Over the same period, full-time work grew by only 16%.

As of 2014, half of Ontario workers do not work 40 full hours per week, with the share of employees working less than 40 hours per week has grown from 42.5% in 1997 to 50.5% in 2014.

Many of those workers would like to work more hours, however – in 2013, 32% of part-time workers reported they'd prefer working full-time hours.


Work hours are increasingly unpredictable

Not having predictable work hours can make life difficult, particularly for workers with families.

In 2014, 62.9% of Ontario's minimum wage workforce said they experienced variations in their work hours from one week to the next. Over 40% of those earning slightly above minimum wage (between $11 and $15 per hour) also reported unpredictable work hours.



Nearly 1 in 3 workers don't have sick leave protection 

When it comes to sick leave, there's a big gap between low and high-paid workers.

Only 16.8% of Ontario workers earning less than $11 per hour and 24.9% of workers earning between $11 and $15 per hour got paid for a full-week absence from work in 2014.

Meanwhile, 56.8% of those earning over $15 per hour got paid time off.

As the CCPA report points out, "the lower a worker’s earnings, the more likely an absence from work will be unpaid; the higher the worker’s earnings, the more likely an absence from work will be paid," suggesting a need for "enhanced leave provisions" covering emergencies or extended illnesses for low-paid workers.



Ontario's labour laws are full of exemptions

Ontario's labour standards aren't universal, thanks to an elaborate series of loopholes and special rules.

Based on age or occupation, some workers are exempted from standard minimum wage laws, as well as other rules covering rest times, public holidays, vacations and overtime. As well, workers employed by a company for less than five years don't qualify for severance pay.

According to the WAC, "low-income employees are much less likely to be covered by most [Employment Standards Act] provisions, ncluding those related to minimum wage, overtime public holidays, personal emergency leave, and severance pay."

They point out this gap is especially pronounced among "recent immigrants," particularly, "young, racialized, and recent immigrant women."

Photo: 15 and Fairness.

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