Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Throwaway Worker

Technological advancements have minimized the need for employees to be as physically present in a traditional office setting, and employee relationships now extend across different time zones and geographies. From the four walls of an office to the online world; the emergence of new flexible hours that no longer require a nine-to-five clock-in. We now have the concept of the throwaway worker - temporary contract workers - freelancers. Work is farmed out on a piecemeal, on a as-needed basis (often for relatively little money). Where once families lived paycheque to paycheque, they now face the prospect of trying to live job to job.

Today, as many as one in eight Canadians hold temporary jobs. A study last year by Statistics Canada showed that temporary employment, which also includes seasonal and casual work, grew rapidly between 1997 and 2005 from 11.3 per cent of all paid jobs to 13.2 per cent, generally exceeding the growth of permanent employment. But the real story was in contract positions, which continued to increase even as overall temporary hiring slowed in 2006 and the recession hit a few years later. By 2009, they comprised 52 per cent of all temporary positions in Canada. More than one-quarter of them are professionals.

A survey of 2,000 U.S. companies by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that 65 per cent of U.S. corporations made operational changes to improve productivity and reduce employment in the past three years. And nearly half of them said they planned to use more part-time, temporary and contingent workers going forward.

“There’s no doubt that having more temporary workers gives employers more flexibility so they can move much quicker,” says Wayne Lewchuk, a professor in the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. “And they’re more willing to let go of temporary employees because they don’t have a commitment to them. They have nothing invested in these people.” Today, he says, the world has moved to more of an Apple Inc. model, which is: “ ‘We’ll take you on for the short term, it might be great ride, but we have no intention of employing you until you have a pension.’ ”

There are other implications. Lewchuk co-authored a recent study of 3,000 Canadians that concluded that, over a long period, the stress associated with a precarious employment status can become a health hazard to workers and their families. “I think people have shorter lives because of it,” he says.


No comments: