Who doesn’t know that organizing and mobilizing a community is hard work? This already difficult task becomes even more difficult when the target audience is a community of individuals who are engaged in precarious employment. Precarious employment is a form of non-standard employment that denies employees their full rights, allowing for conditions of unstable work, low or minimum wages, poor working conditions, a lack of social benefits, and more. Additionally, precarious employment disallows individuals from having fixed work shifts. Thus, when organizing a Community Training Workshop on “Understanding Precarious Employment, Rights, and Civic Engagement”, many members of this community were unable to attend the workshop due to last-minute demanded changes to their work schedules by their employers. As this was the first workshop I was facilitating on the topic, I became frustrated after counting the low number of participants present. Unsure if some of the confirmed participants were just late, we waited a while to see if more participants joined, but we remained the same in numbers.
However, it didn’t take me long to realize that having a smaller number of participants attend is not all that bad… It has some advantages too. As soon as we began the workshop, I recognized that having a smaller workshop allows for more engagement in dialogue from participants. Participants were very active in sharing their experiences and thoughts regarding precarious work, allowing for commonalities to be found between participants’ experience even though they work in different employment sectors. Every participant experienced uncertainty in work shift hours, held a low or minimum-wage job, had no paid sick leave, no vacation leave, no job- security, and experienced discrimination. Participants understood the impact of precarious work on their health and discussed how they could communicate health issues induced or worsened by their precarious employment with their doctors. They also discussed how they could engage with the decent work and fair wage movement to raise their voice and influence policy.
Among many other critical discussions, one of the issues argued during the session was ‘equal pay for equal work’. This principle calls for policy changes that ensure temporary or part-time workers doing the same work as full-time permanent workers are paid equally. One participant questioned why employers should pay the same wage to temporary workers if temporary workers do not have same the responsibility and accountability as permanent workers. The most uniformed answer was that when employers recruit a temporary worker to complete the same work as a permanent worker, the employer expects the temporary worker to hold the same responsibility and accountability as well. Therefore, employers should pay the same wage to temporary workers as they pay permanent workers who complete similar work. Through further discussion, it became clear that it is newcomers who often fall victim to this inequitable, racist, and discriminatory practice.
All in all, participants of the workshop provided feedback that the information and material provided were useful to their interest to advocate for change at a policy-level. They were happy with the visual materials and the manner in which Maisah Syed and I organized and facilitated the workshop. In fact, it would be incomplete if I do not mention how much I enjoyed organizing the event. From managing schedules, ordering catering, and doing the appropriate research and preparation for this event, Maisah and I were able to share responsibilities as well as grow and learn through the process.
It is always a great initiative to train and motivate members of a community to fight for their own cause. The participants who attended this workshop proved yet again that through community mobilization to engage with policy makers and changers such as MPPs, change can be achieved. Today, I can happily report that our consolidated efforts with the community has contributed to changes to the current Employment Standards Act (2000), which would ensure that temporary help agency workers are paid equally to their permanent employee counterparts for completing the same work.
Written by Mohammad Sarker.
Mohammad Sarker is a Community Action Leader of Promoting Good Jobs Project of Access Alliance. He has written this paper to share his experience about the Training held at 90 Mornelle Court Community Hub, Scarborough on April 30, 2017.