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More Than 1 In 5 Canadian Professionals Have Precarious Jobs: Study

Women account for 60 per cent of professionals in precarious work.

If you think getting a higher education and joining a profession will help you avoid precarious work, you may be in for a rude awakening.

A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has found that more than a fifth of Canada's professionals 22 per cent are in precarious work of some sort, including part-time work, contract work or freelance work, and women are disproportionately affected.

"They are among Canada's working elite, yet many professionals are experiencing job instability and economic insecurity," stated the report released Tuesday.

It found that precarious work "cuts across all employment sectors, professional occupations, wage levels, ages, and career stages."

The study combined a survey of 1,000 professionals across Canada with four focus groups of professionals in Toronto and Winnipeg, carried out by Environics Research.

"We found a pervasive sense of economic insecurity and a pessimistic outlook on the job market," the report found.

Even landing a full-time gig might not be enough to avoid precarious work; 26 per cent of precarious workers reported having a full-time job. Typically, these jobs lack security (the worker is uncertain they will have a job a year from now) and lack benefits such as sick days or pensions.

Education alone won't shield you from the problem. The survey found that precarious professionals are actually likelier to have a post-graduate degree (30 per cent) than non-precarious professionals (23 per cent).

"We are talking about people here who quote-unquote 'did everything right,'" said Ricardo Tranjan, a senior researcher at the CCPA and co-author of the report.

"They went to university, they passed professional exams, they were told they would have a job waiting for them. And it's not necessarily there. ... It is a sort of broken promise in our social contract."

In an interview with HuffPost Canada, Tranjan expressed concerns the breaking of that promise could lead to broader social disengagement.

"How are (precarious professionals) feeling about other social commitments? Are they interested in elections, in participating in the local community?" he asked.

Labour market 'tilted against women'

The survey found professional women are far likelier than their male counterparts to be in precarious work, with women accounting for 60 per cent of all precarious professionals.

Tranjan said this has little to do with women gravitating towards less-secure jobs, and is more "a reflection of the condition of women in the labour market.

"Unfortunately it seems the labour market is asymmetrically tilted against women. Other research shows women earn less and have less opportunities for career advancement."

Precarious government jobs

The problem is not limited to private-sector jobs; in fact, two of the three sectors with the highest rates of precarious work are in the public sector health care, where nearly one in five jobs are precarious, and education, where nearly three in 10 jobs are precarious.

Tranjan said the tendency for colleges and universities to hire contract teachers in recent years "likely" has something to do with that.

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"It really drives home the argument that there are management decisions being made here," he said. "What happened in the past 20 years that universities hire contract workers now? There's nothing there other than a management decision to lower costs."

And you can't count on age and experience helping you out, either. Perhaps surprisingly, the survey found a spike in the share of precarious work among the 55-plus age group, as well as among those with 10 or more years of experience in their profession.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Some older workers are choosing to take on precarious jobs, often out of a desire to gain more independence or avoid full-time work, the report noted. But, "it could be that the labour market is squeezing older professionals out of secure jobs," the CCPA report suggested, adding more research on this is needed.

Seeing older people in precarious work is "very disconcerting," Tranjan said. "These are folks who are only 10 or 15 years away from retirement. And if they're not able to put away money for a good retirement, how's it going to be for them in future years? What sort of services are we going to have to offer to support them?"

We've fixed this problem before

Tranjan suggests that addressing the precarious work issue requires a change in attitudes. In our discourse about work today, we talk about service jobs and gig-economy jobs "as if there is something intrinsic there, that jobs are necessarily precarious and unstable and insecure."

But not so, Tranjan argues. Though today we think of manufacturing work as being "exemplary good work" with high wages and benefits, it wasn't always this way. In earlier eras, factory jobs were "extremely precarious," Tranjan noted, until governments started regulating factory work and unions started organizing workers.

While some today are suggesting innovative solutions to precarious work, including instituting a basic income, Tranjan suggests such revolutionary measures might be unnecessary.

"We don't need any exotic solution, what we need is to look back at our own history to see what we did to turn precarious factory jobs into good jobs," he said.


The CCPA report defined professionals as people who are "engaged in work that requires advanced or specialized credentials, such as an advanced degree or certificate; work that is considered to require a high level of skill and judgment; work that is more intellectual in nature, as opposed to manual, mechanical, or physical work."

To determine who is a precarious worker, respondents were asked whether they had a job with a single employer with 30 or more hours per week, and if they expect to have that job a year from now. They were also asked if their job was full-time, part-time, contract or freelance.

Those who answered "yes" to the first question and reported having a full-time job were categorized as "secure professionals" (78 per cent), while the rest were categorized as "precarious professionals" (22 per cent).

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