Precarious work tops agenda as reports highlight long-term risks | What's Left

The conclusions of a flury of reports on precarious work released this week in Ontario couldn't be clearer: as precarious works becomes more prevalent, inequality grows.

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First, Poverty and Employment in Southern Ontario (PEPSO), in conjunction with researchers at MacMaster University, and funded by the United Way Toronto, released The Precarity Penalty. Second, a report was released by the United Way Toronto and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that youth getting trapped in precarious work has a negative impact on economic growth.

As more and more people seek to explain the causes of rising inequality in advanced capitalist countries, the focus has turned to precarious work as a major contributing factor. There are two ways to explain the rise of precarious work, the first being as part of the collapse of the industrial manufacturing sector resulting from liberalization of international trade (and reduced tariff-protected jobs). The artificially maintained difference in exchange rates between countries and the four decades long neoliberal monetary policy prioritizing finance capital and consumption over production has helped to maintain this situation.

The second reason for the rise in precarious work is the growth of human service sectors. As the overall population ages, and as services once provided by the public sector become casualized and privatized, the jobs themselves become more fragmented. When high-skilled and/or large industrial work in Canada gets replaced with lower-skill and informal work environments, there is increased competition for jobs and an increase in exploitative practices because protections for precarious workers are limited.

The gendered history of part-time work is of great importance when understanding the entrenched attitudes towards temporary work. Temporary agencies rose in prominence in the 1950s attempting to sell employers the a more flexible workforce and increased profits. However, to get around the push-back from male-dominated unions who were opposed to their jobs being undermined, the agencies targeted middle-class women who were not considered a threat to male-dominated full-time jobs. This marketing history of Never-Never Girls explains part of the reason that it took until the 2000’s for Canada to pass legislation partially regulating precarious work.

The economic impacts are also concerning as precarious workers are less likely to spend their earnings because of the perceived risk of losing their job. Precarious workers are also less likely to have retirement savings. Needless to say, the long-term economic implications of precarious work is an increased strain on social service programs.

More: The Precarity Penalty

More: Precarious jobs holding back young workers, OECD finds