The number of temporary workers has grown by close to 60% in 20 years, according to the most recent figures from Statistics Canada, compared to 33% for full-time employees. Where has this discrepancy come from?
Temporary work is growing exponentially in Canada. Between 1998 and 2018, the number of temporary employees increased 57%, according to the Labour Force Survey. However, the proportion of temporary workers remains small compared to the entire labour force. This category includes contract, occasional, seasonal or fixed-term jobs.
This type of job generally tends to held by the most vulnerable people: women, young people, immigrants and seniors. It mostly affects education (26% of positions), information, culture and recreation (26%) and health (13%).
For employers, temporary assignments are attractive because of their flexibility. They can recruit employees with specific skills for a specific assignment or need, without committing themselves for the long term. In this way they quickly and efficiently compensate for a shortage of labour while reducing costs.
The origins of temporary work
Temporary (or atypical) work originally related to foreigners (students, farm workers, domestic workers) and was reserved for a few sectors, such as restaurants. It became more widespread with globalization and the quest for growth, as Rolande Pinard explained in an article on job insecurity that appeared in the Relations magazine in 2011.
In the 1980s, job security receded as the government promoted deregulation of labour and facilitated companies’ needs for flexibility. The arrival of new technologies has moved in this direction by reducing the distinction between private and professional life.
All this favours the rise in the number of atypical jobs. More and more workers are attracted to them, as they perceive traditional work as a shackle. But for some it is not a choice, but a necessity. Young people and seniors, in particular, are increasingly making use of it to finance their studies or make ends meet once they retire.
The report by Statistics Canada acknowledges the double-edged sword of temporary work. At the same time as being a source of flexibility for workers, it is also a source of insecurity. The number of hours is higher and the average hourly wage of a temporary employee is $21.80, while it reaches $27.71 for permanent employees.
This precarious situation also affects wage conditions. Social benefits are reduced, and reducing expenses or saving for retirement is complicated. Finally, temporary employees do not have a union or the ability to unite to improve their conditions or reduce injustices.