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Impact of casual work under review (11/01)

By Ken Sitter Often overlooked, part-time, casual, seasonal and contingent workers are under the microscope of a Nipissing University research team.

By Ken Sitter

Often overlooked, part-time, casual, seasonal and contingent workers are under the microscope of a Nipissing University research team.

Three professors are researching the concerns and problems of contingent workers in the Parry Sound, North Bay and Tri-town area of Haileybury, New Liskeard and Cobalt for the Contingent Workers Community Adjustment Advisory Committee.

By the time the final report is submitted in January 2002, they will have received completed questionnaires from 300 to 350 workers, interviewed more than 130 workers, and held more than 10 focus group discussions, says project manager Kim Burns.

The results could help change how employers, governments and training agencies treat contingent workers, says committee spokesman Guy Cantin.

Contingent work is a topic that has not been studied much, but presents numerous issues which should be examined to see what action, if any, should be taken, Cantin says.

"There will certainly be some significant feedback to the local training board" which talks to both the federal and provincial governments about training needs, he says. Working conditions and benefits are other issues the study may have recommendations on, Cantin says.

An environmental scan by the Muskoka Nipissing Parry Sound local training and adjustment board in 1999 indicated concerns about an increase in the number contingent workers needed to be addressed, Cantin adds. That led to the creation of the advisory committee with representatives of labour, employers, contingent workers, the North Bay social planning council and other interested parties.

The committee organized the study, principally funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Sociology professor Greg Brown, and faculty of education professors Bruce Cassie and Michael Wodlinger began work in January.

The scope of the study "is very detailed," attempting to cover "pretty well everything that's not full time," Burns says.

Though work on focus groups and one-on-one interviews began before all the questionnaires were completed, most workers involved in both were drawn from a pool that completed the confidential forms, Burns says.

Questions asked included basic demographics, estimated annual income range, work history, benefits, job hunting, job training and employment conditions. Interviews and focus group discussions were based in part on answers to the questionnaire.

Burns adds the study could present a wealth of information on a variety of topics about contingent workers that will be useful to employers, workers and government policy makers. Contingent workers often have a difficult time obtaining loans and mortgages from lending institutions. A better understanding of how contingent workers manage might help banks change how they treat them, Burns adds. Other potential problems for such workers, including the lack of benefits, training, low morale and even income tax (some do not have enough deducted by various employers).

When the study is completed, the committee will distribute copies on a one-time basis to interested parties. The ministry will handle broader distribution.