Precarious employment causes slew of problems for workers

New study points to the shocking social and psychological effects of working contract to contract

There are many factors that can contribute to a psychologically unsafe workplace. These include workers being placed in compromising situations by their boss, or being subject to co-workers who show a pattern of psychological or physical harassment.

But, as our economy moves towards an emphasis on precarious work with short-term contracts instead of permanent employment, some of the most likely workers in our society to be subjected to psychologically unsafe workplace are those who work contract to contract.

As the Toronto Star reports, 52 per cent of the workforce in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are in temporary, part-time or contract positions.

According to a study titled “The Precarity Penalty” by the United Way and McMaster University, precarious workers are twice as likely to experience health problems, six times as likely to delay starting a relationship and three times more likely to delay having kids than someone in secure employment.

In fact, according to the report, nearly 37 per cent vulnerable workers reported experiencing poor mental health. Only 20 per cent of workers with secure jobs report felling the same way.

The report also points out that this is bad for the economy. Without long-term work, companies are less likely to invest in valuable training for their employees, creating a less skilled and less competitive workforce.

Workplace safety

From a workplace culture perspective this trend is also problematic. Contract workers are often less protected from abusive or illegal behaviour as they are not protected, or as well protected, by Human Resource departments.

Furthermore, since these contract employees are always looking for a renewed contract, a chill is placed on their reporting of bad behaviour in the workplace out of fear that being a ‘troublemaker’ will preclude them from a contract extension.

This makes contract employees essentially second-class citizens in the workplace and allows bullies to harass them without nearly as much fear of consequence. It also allows slum employers to exploit these workers and get away with practices that would never be acceptable with permanent employees.

The report calls for an update to the Employment Standards Act and the creation of affordable day care that will prevent many people, mostly women, from being forced to choose between permanent employment or taking care of their children.

Certainly something must be done urgently. Consumers should vote with their dollars and reward companies that provide safe, long-term employment for their workers. Companies who use these precarious hiring practices should be named and shamed.

Remember folks, precarious work is nefarious work.