OPINION: Gig economy the new normal in Ontario

by | Nov 29, 2017 | Opinion

Ed Hitchins
Sports Editor

Have you ever watched Daredevil?

I’m not speaking about the debacle that featured Michael Clarke Duncan as a black Kingpin and launched the decade-long romance between Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck.

I’m talking about the show on Netflix, where New York Bulletin writer Ben Urich is told by his boss that in order to compete with social media, the paper has to concentrate on topics that are sleazy trash. He coldly tells Ben that everybody they know “is on a beach writing on a blog, somewhere” while they toil in an antiqued newsroom.

When most of our parents grew up, full-time work was easier to come by. One grew up, found a job with or without high school, joined a union, earned benefits, retired and faded away into the sunset.

Now, kids wake up, take control of an electronic device and sit in front of YouTube or Instagram, fueled by delusions of grandeur that they can generate millions of hits for a video. Lily Singh, The Fine Bros., The Dobre Brothers and Shawn Mendes are but a few who have launched their careers on social media platforms.

But precarious work threatens to become the new economic normal. It remains a lightning rod among Ontario college faculty, where between 75 per cent and 80 per cent of professors, counselors and librarians are part-time or partial load.

Hard-hitting, edgy journalism is overshadowed by Twitter and podcasts, arguably driving members of publications, like the LA Times, to unionize. Even taxi and food delivery industries are now faced with app-driven services such as UBER.

While not the initial cause of friction, the theme of ‘same work, same pay’ was a rallying cry with OPSEU faculty workers at 24 Ontario Colleges in the recent 35-day strike. The strike ended with government legislation, but while attention was focused on colleges, post-secondary schools remain in turmoil. University of Toronto workers recently voted nearly 91 per cent to give its CUPE local a strike mandate mainly for job security.

Job security is definitely an issue.

According to a 2014 study by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers, nearly half of the faculty at post-secondary campuses were not permanent.

Businesses argue it provides them flexibility and doesn’t lock them into providing permanent jobs, with expensive benefits and wages.

Louise Birdsell-Bauer, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, said college faculty were tired of being played by the system.

“People were upset that they were working really hard, teaching valuable lessons to students. These are highly qualified people too. I think for these people, precarious work was not okay. They are doing a highly important professional service,” Birdsell-Bauer said.

She said while some people like the flexibility that comes with freelancing or with precarious work, employers appear to assume everybody loves it. People prefer the predictability of a full-time job.

“There are people who want that kind of job security. They want to know when they are working, not having to worry about their next paycheck,” Birdsell-Bauer said.

It will be interesting to see if the recent trend of precarious work continues with actions such as the minimum wage increase introduced by the government.