Tag Archives: Precarious jobs

“A Fair and Decent Life”: Interview with Community Action Leader Sayema Ahmed

A newcomer perspective on why Ontario needs better employment protections

Sayema Ahmed is a Community Action Leader with the Community Works! Working Group, a group committed to promoting economic security for newcomers and their families. She arrived with her husband and young daughter in Canada in November 2012. In Bangladesh, Sayema worked as a dentist and her husband was a lawyer, but they both struggled to find work in Canada. Eventually, needing money to survive, her husband applied for work in general labour through a temporary work agency. There he initially worked in a packaging plant, until he was laid off. The temp agency later placed him in a food processing plant, where he was injured lifting sacks of flour. While her husband was working for the temp agency, Sayema’s whole family suffered from the mental and physical health effects of low wages and job insecurity.

Sayema and her husband’s story is far from unique. An increasing number of people, particularly newcomers, are only finding work in temporary jobs in Toronto. A recent article by the Toronto Star, reported that the number of temporary workers in Toronto had increased by 33% since 2004, while the number of permanent workers had only increased by 12% in the same time period. Temporary workers are often paid less for the exact same work as their permanent co-workers, have less job security, and less access to benefits. Research by Access Alliance in the past has found that precarious employment, including temp agency work, is associated with a number of poor health outcomes, such as increased risks of coronary heart disease and diabetes, and higher rates of fatal occupational injuries.

Sayema shared her family’s story with in order to provide a personal perspective on the issues with temporary agency work. The interview corresponds with the movement to improve employment standards in Ontario, in light of the provincial government’s ongoing Changing Workplaces Review. Interested community members and organizations are encouraged to share their opinions by attending public consultation meetings or submitting comments to the Ministry of Labour.

In the interview, we discuss Sayema’s family’s experiences with the labour market in Canada, including temporary help agencies, and its effect on their well-being. Sayema also recommends a number of policy changes. You can listen to the interview here or download a transcript.

Highlights from the Interview

The challenges of temporary agency work:

The first issue you experience is uncertainty. You never know whether you will have a job next week. You sign up for the temporary agency and they don’t give you any commitment that you will have any work for one month or two months. You could be working for them for two weeks, three weeks and then they say there is no work because of layoffs.

Health Impacts of Temporary Agency Work on her Husband:

It affected both his physical and mental health. Physically, he got high blood pressure. One time he had to pull more weight than what he was told he would. In his commitment, he was told he would only lift 40lbs, but the employer asked him to lift weights of 80lbs. He was so afraid that if he didn’t do it he would lose his job, so he did it. He had back pain and muscle pain for almost three months.

Effects on her family’s well-being:

You can’t have a fair life or good life or decent life when you’re working for minimum wage. It affects the whole family. Not only the person who is working for the temporary agency, but also all the people who are related to that person. All the time that you are depressed, you are stressed, it affects your family. After working so hard for a week, eight hours a day, you don’t even know after paying my rent, after paying my TTC, how can I have my groceries done? You don’t have any money for recreation. You can’t think of any luxury or travel, like any vacation. When I went to the shopping centres, I didn’t even think of buying any toys for my kid. That was so stressful. You can’t have a fair or decent life.

In discussing policy changes to help temporary workers, Sayema echoed many of the recommendations made by the Worker’s Action Centre in their report Still Working on the Edge, including:

  1. Limiting the percentage of pay that temporary help agencies are able to take from their worker’s wages and require them to report these numbers.
  2. Making employers responsible for the pay, benefits, training and liability of temporary workers alongside temporary help agencies.
  3. Ensuring that temporary agencies find replacement work if you are “laid off” or they give you termination pay.

Suggestion for the creation of paid training programs for internationally trained professionals:

[Employers] are looking for Canadian experience; they are looking for a Canadian degree. How can I have Canadian experience if I don’t work in Canada? So there should be specific on job training so that after coming to Canada I have a job or internship. The pay might not be much, but enough that I can survive, I can maintain my family and at the same time I can have training to upgrade my skills. It would be helpful if there was funding for that. 

Importance of raising the minimum wage to $15/hour in Canada:

My opinion is very clear on this issue. The government is raising the minimum wage to $11.25 this October. If you calculate when I’m getting $11.25, if it is raised to $15 and I am working 8 hours a day. It is almost a four dollar raise. Four dollars per 8 hours per day is almost thirty dollars, a week is 150 dollars and a month is almost 600 dollars. So, if you do simple math, this six hundred dollars, I can think of my groceries after paying my bills, after paying my rents. I can think of a decent life, a fair life. It’s not that people are thinking of luxury, of doing luxurious things. This is the basic needs. If you raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars, you will have a decent and fair life. At least I don’t have to cut my daughter’s child tax benefit to maintain my groceries. At least I can think of some recreation. At least after paying my rent, TTC, I can think of think of a little vacation, I can think of a little toy for my chid. That is a basic thing. The main thing is, if you raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars, you can have a decent and fair life. At least you can live above the poverty line.

Written by Michelle Hayman (MSW Student), interview with Sayema Ahmed (Community Action Leader)

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Promoting Fair Wages: A Community Action Leader in Action

I am an internationally trained physician from Bangladesh. Like many internationally trained doctors, I could not get a job in my field and am currently working as a pharmacy technician in Toronto.  While my situation is not ideal, I quickly realized that people around me have it lot worse. This is my story of how I mobilized people in my community who were stuck in low wage jobs to successfully convince their employers (two medium sized companies) to introduce fair wages and benefits. Continue reading Promoting Fair Wages: A Community Action Leader in Action

Bad Jobs are Making our Children Sick

johannaimmageBy Johanna Ysselstein, Pediatric Registered Nurse, Masters of Public Health student at Access Alliance

Bad jobs are making us sick; temporary jobs, jobs without legal protection, and jobs without security. Often referred to as precarious work, or non-standard employment, these include part-time and contract-based, ‘temp agency,’ on call and split shift jobs. Many of these job types have unpredictable work hours, lack standard benefits (such as sick leave) and have little or no extended benefit coverage (i.e. for prescription medicine).

Why is this important to talk about?

There is growing evidence that these types of precarious, non-standard types of employment are on the rise in Canada. A recent report, “Its more than Poverty” found that 40% of employees in the GTA work in precarious jobs. Being sucked into precarious jobs can have damaging health impacts including depression, digestive problems, musculoskeletal ailments, heart disease and diabetes. This is because these types of jobs cause high levels of stress on the economic security and health of families. Research conducted by Access Alliance shows that employment precarity not only affects workers but also the overall household wellbeing, to the extent that their children also feel damaging health impacts.

Income and employment are strong determinants of health. Job insecurity combined with income insecurity means that precariously employed families are at high risk of facing food insecurity, housing insecurity and reduced access to essential services. Research has also shown that children who experience poverty are at higher risk of encountering health problems, developmental delays and behavior disorders. They are also more likely to fall into the poverty trap themselves in adulthood. Not having flexible or predictable employment has further detrimental effects because families have less free time to spend together, impacting positive familial relationships and bonding experiences.

“Not having enough money, not being able to afford healthy food… Does affect me and causes weakness overall in the body… And because of financial insecurity from job and income is not enough so that stresses me… Affects my behavior towards my children and causes conflict and argument with my wife… That gets transferred to children and they also express their tensions in terms of anger…”– Daruun Sharma, Focus Group Participant in Where are the Good Jobs?

Daruun Sharma & his wife, like many other new families to Canada have faced difficulty finding meaningful, adequate paying, stable employment, which has made it difficult to afford suitable and flexible childcare arrangements, among other things. One of the most significant barriers for precariously employed parents that prevents them from improving their career situation is the unaffordable and inaccessible childcare. Affordable daycare and childcare for school aged children is vital for all families, but especially with precariously employed parents, since they experience the strongest economic burdens.

In 2012 Ontario had the highest average monthly fees for full-day care centers in all of Canada for both infants and toddlers (Quebec has the most affordable). That means that for precariously employed families with young children, childcare responsibilities can end up being very stressful.

However, in December 2013 the Government of Ontario proposed new legislation to address this in the “Child Care Modernization Act”. The purpose of the act is to distribute a balance between quality, affordability, safety and accessibility. The act proposes a flexible model and has the potential to reduce what parents/families pay in child care fees and subsidy costs for children up to age 6 years by approximately $3,500.

As this Act moves into possible regulation and law, my hope is that precariously employed families are able to access safe and flexible childcare options in their own communities at the right cost. This would help alleviate one barrier to better health and good employment that precariously employed family’s experience and eliminate one more obstacle that bad jobs put in their way.