The Social Drivers of Precarious Employment


The national statistics on full-time versus precarious employment are alarming. The percentage of Canadian workers employed in permanent full-time positions decreased from 67% in 1989 to 63% in 2002, and those employed in precarious roles increased from 7% to 10% between 1989 and 2005. More recent data from Statistics Canada shows that the percentage of full-time jobs increased by only 7% between 2006 and 2014, whereas part-time opportunities more than doubled that figure (15%) during the same period. The trend toward temporary and/or part-time job opportunities doesn’t seem to be cyclical and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

The cause of precariousness is commonly answered by placing the blame on financial reasons, pointing a finger at corporations seeking to improve their bottom lines through eliminating high-cost full-time positions. This may be true in many cases, however, the strategy of eliminating high-cost employees has been widely known and used by organizations for decades if not centuries. In the past, it was still common practice for organizations to create mostly full-time job opportunities, and for new college graduates to have a reasonable expectation of securing a full-time job, paying livable wages, not long after graduation. This isn’t the case anymore; things have changed and there could be more to the explanation besides corporations interested in saving HR costs.

What we, especially our new graduates, are experiencing today is unlike anything we’ve seen before (not counting times of economic recession). Despite being out of a recession, despite corporations returning to profitability, and despite the news reports of positive job creation, precariousness seems to be stronger than ever! What I find especially troubling is that organizations who are making exceptional profits, and could easily afford permanent full-time staff, are still electing to hire mostly precarious workers. I want to know why. I suspect there are non-financial factors responsible for today’s precariousness trend. I would like to look at a number of possible social forces that could be driving precariousness in Canada. These social forces are all relatively new, and were either non-existent or not strong enough to affect the job market prior to 2000. Some of the social forces I have in mind are:

a) The dramatic increase in workforce diversity
b) Telecommunications technology and the rise in work-from-home arrangements
c) The exploding volunteer sector and the changing perceptions of volunteer work
d) Youth perceptions and attitudes toward unionization
e) Millennial workers’ perceptions of work and work-life balance

Other questions I have regarding the social causes of precariousness include:

Is there a social stigma attached to precarious worker status? If so, does it negatively affect the worker’s ability to secure a non-precarious job?

Do younger workers perceive precariousness differently than older workers? If so, does this affect the type of employment opportunities created/maintained by employers?

Are organizations purposely creating more precarious roles in order to avoid unionization?

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