The Changing Workplace Landscape: “Precarious” Work

In a detailed report years in the making and released earlier this year, the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) confirmed what many have long suspected: the nature of employment is changing dramatically.
The traditional workplace relationship – full-time, stable employment with at least some benefits – is becoming increasingly less common. In its place, more and more employees are engaged in work that the LCO characterizes as “precarious” – low wages, little job security, and few or no benefits.

LCO’s Stance on Precarious Work
The LCO is concerned about this trend, as the workers at these sorts of jobs are predictably vulnerable, and precarious work and vulnerable workers present a challenge for society as a whole. Such “precarious work” limits employees’ ability to fully participate in the community, due to a lack of financial resources due to low wages and insufficient time due to often working multiple jobs. This predictably contributes to family stress. According to the LCO, 22 percent of Ontarians work in low-pay, unstable jobs.
Many employers rely on “precarious” workers in order to remain profitable, especially in certain industries that are dominated by small businesses with low profit margins. Given the current state of the economy, this trend is projected to continue for the foreseeable future.

How the Changing Workplace Affects Employees, and What Can Be Done
Currently, ignorance of the law by employees and employers alike, as well as intentional breaches of the law by some unscrupulous employers, are major obstacles for employees. The LCO’s report makes numerous recommendations on changes to both employment standards legislation and government enforcement strategies that, it hopes, will restore some balance to workplaces that are increasingly relying on these types of jobs. The LCO hopes that improved communication and increased enforcement will lead to fewer workplace law violations; additionally, the report urges more robust protections for workers engaged in “precarious work” in employment legislation. It remains to be seen to what degree the LCO’s recommendations will be adopted as government policy.
Despite the changing nature of the workplace and the shift away from traditional, full-time employment, the vast majority of Ontario employees – even those doing “precarious work” – are currently protected by the Employment Standards Act and other workplace legislation. Employees would be well served to learn about these rights and protections, to ensure that they are treated fairly. Employers could save themselves future headaches by learning which workplace laws apply to them and ensuring that they are always in compliance. To address the changing workplace landscape, precarious work must be at the top of the list for employees and legislators alike.