VANCOUVER – A study released today by the Understanding Precarity in BC partnership reveals a polarized labour market in which precarious work is far more pervasive than many assume and includes much more than “gig work.”
The pilot BC Precarity Survey is the first of its kind in BC, providing new evidence on the scale and unequal impacts of precarious work. The survey was conducted in late 2019 and completed by over 3,000 workers aged 25 to 65, providing a unique snapshot of the provincial labour market just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Uber drivers and Skip the Dishes come to mind when we think of precarious work, but our study shows that half the workforce lacks the job security, benefits and training that some of us take for granted,” says study co-author, Kendra Strauss, Director of the SFU Morgan Centre for Labour Research.
“Our study finds that the burden of precarious work falls more heavily on racialized and immigrant communities, Indigenous peoples, women, and lower-income groups, compounding systemic and intersecting inequalities in the province”, adds co-author Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist and Public Interest Researcher with the CCPA-BC.
The survey measured precarious employment in two ways. First, it looked at whether or not respondents had a “standard job” (permanent, full-time position with at least some benefits). Second, it used the Employment Precarity Index to capture a broader range of job characteristics and looked at workers’ employment experiences on a spectrum from Secure to Stable, Vulnerable, and Precarious.
Key findings include:
The standard job was not all that common and was unequally available.
- Only 49% of BC workers surveyed had standard jobs.
- About 60% of recent immigrants, Indigenous workers, and racialized women were in non-standard jobs.
- Standard jobs were more common in Metro Vancouver than elsewhere in the province and least common in the BC Interior.
BC’s job market was quite polarized.
- 37% of survey respondents had Precarious jobs and only 18% were in Secure jobs.
- More than half of recent immigrants (less than 10 years in Canada) were in Precarious jobs (55%), the highest proportion of any group in our survey.
- Younger workers (aged 25 to 34) were more likely to be in Precarious jobs.
Employment precarity had negative effects on individuals, families and communities.
- Workers in Precarious jobs—especially those with low incomes—were more likely to report poorer physical and mental health.
- Parents in Precarious jobs were four times more likely to report that lack of access to child care impacted their ability to work (39%) compared with those in Secure jobs (10%).
- 60% of recent immigrants reported that access to child care negatively affected their own and/or their spouse’s ability to work (compared to 37% of non-immigrants).
- Workers with Precarious jobs were less likely to be able to afford school supplies and trips or to attend or volunteer at school and community-related events and activities.
“The shockingly high levels of employment precarity among recent immigrants revealed in this study confirm what migrant worker groups like ours know only too well,” says Cenen Bagon, a steering committee member of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, a community partner in UP-BC. “For migrant care workers, primarily women of colour, employment precarity often persists long after they become permanent residents.”
“Workers have faced many challenges due to the pandemic and rising cost of living, and it’s even harder when they can’t rely on their jobs for benefits, security, or a stable income,” says Sussanne Skidmore, President of the BC Federation of Labour. “This study shows that precarious work is more widespread than previously thought and extends beyond gig work. We need to act now to strengthen workplace rights and ensure equal protection for all workers in BC.”
The Understanding Precarity in BC Partnership, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, aims to study the impacts of precarious work on the lives of British Columbians. The partnership involves four BC universities, 26 community-based organizations and more than 80 academic and community researchers and collaborators with deep connection to populations most impacted by precarity.