Public Policy Forum Shines a Spotlight on Precarious Work Through Brave New Work Project

Over the summer, Public Policy Forum (PPF) held its third annual Brave New Work Conference, this time focused on The Messy Middle of the Future of Work. The “messy middle” being the period between the second and second last jobs for workers — a time ripe for labour disruptions caused by digitization, globalization, evolving business models, and in the case of the last year, a world-altering pandemic.

On the second day of the conference, University of Toronto researcher Laura Lam — author of Navigating Precarity in Non-standard Work: Realities and Policy Recommendations — led a session to discuss the paper along with Alex Mazer, the co-founder and CEO of Common Wealth Retirement and Jeannette Campbell, the CEO of the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

One of the goals of our Inclusive Local Economies Program’s Opportunities Fund is to make precarious jobs better (raise the floor) and support the upward mobility of workers (build ladders). We were glad to see this incredibly timely and relevant discussion take place in the midst of a pandemic that has created some of the most unstable economic conditions we have ever seen and exacerbated existing inequalities.

COVID-19 has resulted in some of the most vulnerable in society — women, new immigrants, and racialized communities — bearing the biggest burdens of precarious work. Consider the faces of the essential workers who served on the frontlines to keep grocery stores running, deliver your essentials, and care for those who fell ill.

An estimated 30% of the Canadian workforce is engaged in non-standard, precarious work of some kind. The good news though, is that we can change this — with the ultimate goal of making every job, a good job.

Laura’s paper highlighted potential policy interventions to enable a future where precarity does not have to be a reality, including:

  • Creating a comprehensive data collection and protection strategy;
  • Collaborating with best practices and methodology on fair work metrics;
  • Connecting portable benefits and incentivizing employer-led benefits;
  • Critically examining the role of sectoral bargaining;
  • Investing in skills-based assessments and recognition; and
  • Opening the conversation on improvement of employment insurance and the potential of a targeted basic income.

The conference and paper were part of PPF’s larger Brave New Work project that brought together government, labour, employers, and academics to examine the policies and interventions needed to help Canadians adapt and thrive in an ever-changing labour market.

The Metcalf Foundation is pleased to have supported the Brave New Work project over the last three years. We encourage others working on these issues to explore the publications and case studies they released throughout the course of the project as well as the recorded conference sessions.

For those interested in learning more about precarious work and the people who live that reality — from nurses doing gig work to mothers on EI working under the table — we recommend The Local’s latest issue fully devoted to this topic, Precarious. We also recommend reviewing the policy papers by the Workers Action Centre, which brings the voices of workers forward on how to improve wages and work conditions in the post-pandemic period.