Temporary agency workers struggling with low pay and economic insecurity: CCPA report

New report proposes reforms to better protect those employed through temporary agencies
July 3, 2014

(Vancouver) A report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives examines the rise of temporary agency work in British Columbia, and explores the experiences of temporary agency workers. The report examines the realities of low wages, insufficient hours, unequal treatment and lack of protection under employment standards legislation.

As public attention about the problematic Temporary Foreign Workers program continues, author Andrew Longhurst explores the under-investigated local dimension of temporary labour in Precarious: Temporary Agency Work in British Columbia.

Temporary employment (including contract, seasonal, casual and agency work) is on the rise in BC. It accounted for 40% of post-recession job creation (2009–2013). Temporary agency work specifically—in which a worker is placed with a firm through an employment agency—has grown significantly. According to Statistics Canada’s best measure, the number of temp agency workers in BC has grown from 8,848 in 2004 to 19,580 in 2013.

While temporary agency work is often defended as offering a “foot in the door”, workers interviewed for this report describe significant challenges transitioning into full-time, permanent employment, and many temporary workers live in poverty. This is not only due to a lacklustre job market; it is exacerbated by “buy-out” clauses that restrict temporary agency workers’ mobility in the labour market, and by the lack of control workers have over their schedules.

“Temporary agency work is often a last resort, not a lifestyle choice,” says Longhurst. “This work is precarious—the length of employment is often short and uncertain, workers report great difficulty securing enough consistent paid hours to earn a living, and the prevalence of unlicensed agencies is putting vulnerable workers at risk.”

Employers often use temporary agency workers to avoid minimum labour standards that come with direct employment, including notice of termination and severance pay. These workers report difficulty asserting their rights—and they can easily find themselves in assignments that are undesirable, very unpleasant or even unsafe.

The report proposes policy changes that would enhance the economic security of temporary agency workers. As Longhurst states, “Until public policy adequately addresses the realities of temporary agency work, workers will continue to have second-class status in the workplace and encounter the preacriousness associated with this type of non-standard employment.”


Andrew Longhurst completed this research while serving as the Rosenbluth Graduate Student Intern with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office.

For more information or interviews with Andrew Longhurst, contact Lindsey Bertrand at 604-801-5121 x233 or lbertrand [at] policyalternatives [dot] ca.