Conference looks at trend toward precarious employment of immigrants

How are recent immigrants affected by the wider trend towards precarious employment? That was one of the questions York sociology Professor Luin Goldring, co-lead investigator of the research project "Immigrants and Precarious Employment: Latin American and Caribbean Workers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)," asked 300 workers.

Findings of the research project, along with public outreach materials, will be presented at the Precarious Work/Decent Work: Research Findings & Tools for Action conference Thursday, June 18, from 9:30am to noon, at York’s Schulich School of Business, W132 Seymour Schulich Building, 56 Fine Arts Rd., Keele campus.

Right: Luin Goldring

The 300 Latin American and Caribbean workers interviewed for the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada funded research project in 2005 had arrived in Canada between 1990 and 2004 and lived in the GTA. The findings presented at the conference will focus on three themes, the index of precarious work, predictors of precarious work for immigrants and strategies to improve work and secure livelihoods.

What Goldring, a fellow at York’s Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean, and her co-researcher Professor Patricia Landolt of the University of Toronto found is that precarious employment − marked by unstable and insecure work, which offers limited rights, protections and benefits − has a significant negative effect on the well-being of immigrants. Using an index of precarious work, the pair assessed the precariousness of particular jobs, the likelihood of a newcomer obtaining a precarious job and how precarious work affects a person’s well-being.

As of 2006, more than 40 per cent of workers in Ontario worked in low-wage service jobs and in 2007 some 28 per cent were members of a union. In the 1990s and early 2000s, newcomers had more schooling and skills than previously, but they did not fare as well in terms of employment and earnings.

“In short, there is a growing sense that newcomers to Canada are not doing well in the job market,” says Goldring.

The research found that education is not a reliable predictor of the kind of job an immigrant will get and does not protect immigrants from precarious work either early on or after they’ve been in the country for awhile. On-the-job training, however, is associated with less employment precarity, but signing on to government education and training strategies does not guarantee good jobs or income security.

Survey respondents who had precarious jobs during their first year in Canada were more likely to work with chronic pain, experience harassment on the job and be asked to perform dangerous tasks, says Landolt.

A person’s first job in Canada lays the foundation for subsequent employment opportunities, she says. So when immigrants find precarious employment, they are most likely to continue to be precariously employed regardless of their length of time in Canada. The prevailing thought has always been that with time immigrants would find stable work that matches their skills and education, but the research has found that doesn’t hold true. “We found that the amount of time that immigrants spent in Canada did not guarantee them a pathway to decent work,” says Goldring.

Precarious immigrant workers often live in poverty. Fifty per cent of workers with medium or high rates of job precarity paid more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. Half of them said they were unable to put aside savings. Often respondents worked multiple jobs and many hours a week to make ends meet.

The Immigrants and Precarious Employment project in conjunction with the Catalyst Centre Popular Education Foundation have developed an education manual for use by front-line workers in immigrant settlement agencies, workers rights organizations and other interested groups. It is designed to increase awareness about precarious work, identify indicators of precarious work and exchange information on relevant activities taking place in workers’ communities.

York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit supported the project with plain language editorial support and layout design for the research briefs being presented at the conference.

For more information about the study, visit the Immigrants and Precarious Employment Web site.