April 19, 2017 11:44 am
Updated: April 19, 2017 12:06 pm

Inside Canada’s flexible work economy. Who’s the real winner here?

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It’s no secret that young people joining the workforce today are entering a vastly different world than their parents did.

A new report from the human resources consulting firm Randstad indicates that non-traditional workers, which include independent contractors, on-demand workers, remote workers as well as other arrangements, already make up between 20 and 30 per cent of the workplace. This number is expected to grow as the gig economy becomes a more accepted employment model across the country.

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“I think it just reaffirms what we have been feeling in the industry, that the workforce is changing and we need to adapt as industry leaders. Employers are driving it but employees are embracing it,” said Faith Tull, a senior vice president of human resources at Randstad.

While the report cites multiple positives to these new working arrangements, such as flexibility, specialization and work-life balance, but former MP Andrew Cash suggests that there is a dark side to the gig economy.

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“There are two kinds of freelancers. Freelancers by choice, and freelancers by force,” says Cash, founder of Urban Worker and former MP in the House of Commons. Cash goes on to explain that while flexible work is a first-choice for many Canadians, a significant portion simply can’t find full-time work.

According to the report, the profession most heavily populated with non-traditional workers is information technology, followed by engineering, administrative support, sales and business development, finance and human resources. While this number currently sits between 20 and 30 percent, by 2025, the breakdown of non-traditional employees in the workforce will be 35 per cent contractual/consultant, 32 per cent virtual or remote, and 25 per cent part time, says the report.

With these changes already underway, Cash believes that regulators should account for non-traditional workers when writing employment legislation to ensure they’re protected from abuse in the workplace.

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“Often times you see contract workers doing the exact same work as employees, but getting paid less with no benefits or job security,” Cash continues. “Employees are engaging contractors, when by the letter of the law, these contract workers would be classified as employees.”

The federal government, as well as provincial regulators, have begun recognizing the precarious position of many workers without full-time status. The 2017 federal budget proposed updates to the Canada Labour Code to reflect the changing face of work.

“The Government recognizes that the labour market is changing and can be challenging for Canadian workers.While today’s workforce is more open, flexible and competitive, which has brought significant benefits to our economy, this increased flexibility has also put pressure on job security for some workers,” said the department of Employment and Social Development Canada, in a statement sent to Global News.

READ MORE: Canadian job market in 2016 propelled by part-time work as full-time jobs faded: StatsCan

“One of the priorities of the Government of Canada is to update the Canada Labour Code to ensure that Canadians continue to have a robust and modern set of federal employment standards. Budget 2017 proposes targeted amendments to the Canada Labour Code to ensure that rules governing federally regulated workers reflect the changing world of work, and to better support Canadian workers as they seek to balance the responsibilities of work and family,”  the statement continued.

Cash goes on to explain however that while there are several factors contributing to the growth of the so-called “gig economy,” there are benefits to employers who embrace this model.

“Private sector and public sector employers have moved to the contract work model because it’s cheaper, and they don’t have to make a commitment to an employee,” Cash says. A conflicting study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives states that the flex-work economy might not be what you think. This study was also published in April, 2017 and focuses solely on companies that rely on contract or gig-based employees to function such as Uber.

This study states that while 63 percent of workers do it because they like it, 55 percent of those surveyed participate in this kind of employment because it’s “the only way to make a living right now,” and 71 per cent are under the age of 40.

Cash explains that the ripple effect of this trend is that those engaged in non-traditional relationships with their employees may delay starting a family or buying a home.

“We’re seeing the long term ripple effect. We’re seeing people delaying having children. We’re seeing people not hitting those markets that signify middle-class ascension, such as having your own place to live or landing that career marker job.”

Helping young graduates find jobs

As the mentality around work and meaningful employment begins to change, the nature of relationships between employers and employees will inevitably evolve as well. While these arrangements can be positive for all parties involved, there’s still work being done by the private and public sector to ensure this employment model is sustainable for individuals in the longterm.

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