Linda MacNeil, Unifor Atlantic Regional Director
Part-time work is nothing new to Canadians because employers have long exploited a gap in our employment standards that allows them to discriminate against them. It’s no secret that part-time workers earn below average pay, have no guaranteed schedule of hours, and are often denied benefits that their full-time counterparts enjoy.
More than 3.6 million working people (or about 20 per cent of the workforce) earn their living as part-time workers in Canada.
The whole notion of working “part” of the time is a myth. Last time I checked, all of us work – often very hard – every hour we are on the clock. So why do our laws allow employers to discriminate against workers, whether they work for four or 40 hours each week, or arbitrarily classified as an “independent contractor?”
Loblaw, Canada’s largest and richest grocery retailer may be the worst offender. The iconic supermarket chain has overhauled its store operations within the span of a generation; now run almost exclusively by part-time. Loblaw could be leaders in the industry. They could invest in their most valuable asset: their workers, but instead they actively suppress them by cutting jobs and keeping wages as low as possible.
More than 80 per cent of the workers at any neighbourhood Dominion Store in Newfoundland are part-time, in fact – and most not by choice. Their hourly wages, on average, are 30 per cent less than full-time workers. They have no set schedule, no paid sick days, and few qualify for basic health benefits.
This week, Unifor opens bargaining with Loblaw to negotiate a new collective agreement. Reversing what has been a steady, and intentional, elimination of good jobs is priority number one for the union.
Loblaws can afford to do this. The company earned nearly one billion in net profits last year. Dominion Stores workers certainly deserve a fair share.
Instead, Loblaw has opted to eliminate an additional few dozen full-time positions from Dominion Stores across the province early this year – roughly six per store. Instead, the company has asked existing workers to pull double or triple duty. Incredibly, Loblaw is notorious for encouraging low-paid part-timers to work full-time hours, which most do out of desperation.
The history of part-time work in Canada is rooted in unfair treatment, inequity and the marginalization of vulnerable groups. It is certainly no shock that women are over-represented in part-time work (about two-thirds), not to mention young workers and seniors. The undercurrent is that, somehow, this ‘part-time’ labour is worth less.
It should also come as no shock that more than half of the part-timers in Newfoundland and Labrador would much prefer to have a full-time job according to Statistics Canada. This is certainly the case at Dominion Stores.
But we need all employers in the province to step up. The Ball government can lead the way. It’s high time for this province to modernize its labour laws, close these unfair loopholes, raise the minimum wage to $15 and demand equal treatment for workers – regardless of their employment status.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a part-time problem. And it’s about time we fixed it.