Ontario survey suggests lack of job security harmful to mental health
Stress is one of the biggest consequences of unstable employment, according to a new survey of more than 4,000 workers by the Ontario Federation of Labour.
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It’s a well known trope that millenials are permanently attached to their phones. But for 20-somethings such as Briea Beausoleil, the pastime isn’t an exercise in vanity; it’s a taxing feature of the precarious workplace.
For Beausoleil, the habit crept in after graduation.
Her wages as an early childhood educator were too low to make a living, so she got a job as temporary, part-time employee at a Windsor-area factory . . . where erratic schedules meant much-needed shifts could crop up at any moment.
“You were constantly by that phone, looking at it, just waiting for it to ring,” said Beausoleil, now 24.
Stress, unhappiness and an unhealthy home life are the biggest consequences of unstable employment, according to a new survey of more than 4,000 workers by the Ontario Federation of Labour.
While financial insecurity was flagged as a cause for concern, respondents identified anxiety as the single most important repercussion of precarious jobs.
“I’m not surprised because it’s been happening for so long here in this province,” said OFL president Chris Buckley.
“My heart aches for people who are in this situation, because you can’t plan your day-to-day life. You can’t plan your future. You can’t plan anything.”
Some 31 per cent of survey respondents singled out their emotional health as the most significant casualty of precarious work.
An unreliable income made up the next biggest share of answers at 28 per cent.
A further 22 per cent said precarious work compromised their inability to plan ahead.
Respondents said other negative side-effects included lack of benefits, low wages and debt.
“It was just stressful, because you didn’t know when your money was coming in. You didn’t know what you were going to do next,” says Beausoleil of her time as a temp.
Some 52 per cent of workers in the GTA now experience some form of insecurity in their jobs.
Half of the respondents to the OFL’s survey of its members said they had been precariously employed in the past, and more than a quarter said they defined their current job as precarious.
Existing research conducted by United Way and McMaster University shows precarious workers are twice as likely as those in stable employment to report having mental health problems.
Indeed, low-income workers in stable jobs were found to report better mental health than higher-earning individuals in precarious jobs.
A 2012 University of Michigan study showed precarious workers in that state were five times more likely than those in secure jobs to be at risk of major or minor depression and three times more likely to report having an anxiety attack in the past month. Research from Sweden suggests precarious work has a “scarring effect” on young people’s long-term mental health.
Yogendra Shakya, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and senior researcher at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, said his organization has “documented how precarious work conditions can disrupt family communication, substantially reduce the time family members spend with each other, increase marital conflicts and even result in breakdown of families.
“In absence of proactive policy actions to reverse the rise of precarious work, the increase in mental health issues and family health issues will result in profound social, economic and healthcare costs,” he said.
The Ontario government is currently reviewing its employment and labour laws with an eye to providing better protection for vulnerable workers.
“Right off the hop, workers should have their schedule at least two weeks in advance. They should be able to plan their lives at least two weeks out instead of sitting by the phone. The number of temporary jobs in Ontario has grown by 45 per cent since the year 2000,” Buckley said.
“I think the government has a real opportunity to make changes here, and I just hope that they’re listening to people.”
Beausoleil says her break came when she landed a permanent position with Chrysler’s Windsor assembly plant. She’s used the opportunity to get involved with the labour movement’s Make It Fair campaign, which seeks to raise job standards for union and non-union members alike.
“It’s great for me, because, not only can I help as someone who was in precarious work, but I can also help my friends who are going to school and working part-time jobs,” she said.
“There’s a need to consider the whole picture instead of the employers’ bottom line,” Buckley added.
“This is about the wellbeing of workers, the health of workers.”
Humans of Toronto