Work standards must change as economy re-opens in wake of COVID-19: New report

June 3, 2020

VANCOUVER – Governments, employers and unions must all work urgently to address several critical weaknesses in Canada’s employment laws and policies to ensure the re-opening of the economy in the wake of COVID-19 can be safe and sustained.

That’s the core message of new research released today by the Centre for Future Work, co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The study, by noted Canadian labour economist Jim Stanford, PhD, details 10 specific ways in which jobs need to be protected and strengthened following the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down large sections of the national economy. In the report, Stanford estimates the true unemployment rate in Canada in April was 33%—much higher than the official Statistics Canada estimate of just 13%.

“The economy is gradually re-opening now, but it will take years to rebuild the quantity of work back up to a level that fully occupies Canadian workers,” Stanford says. “And at the same time we need to repair some obvious and damaging flaws in the quality of work, if we want that re-opening to last and succeed.”

Stanford’s report, Ten Ways the COVID-19 Pandemic Must Change Work… For Good, provides a catalogue of measures needed to ensure jobs are safe, efficient, and sustainable.

“Long-standing fault lines in Canada’s labour market were clearly exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic contraction it caused,” Stanford says. “Repairing those structural failings will be essential for reconstructing the national economy on a sustained basis.”

“Reforming work is not just a moral imperative: something we desire, for a fairer and more inclusive labour market,” Stanford concludes. “It is also an economic necessity.”

“Put simply, Canada’s economy will not be able to function successfully after the pandemic without focused and powerful efforts to fix these long-standing problems in the world of work.”

The paper lists 10 proposals for making jobs safer, healthier and fairer, including: infection control and safety; more space in work sites; sick pay for workers who must stay away from work; protections for people working from home; limits on multiple job-holding and other precarious work practices; an expansion of public sector jobs; reduced reliance on just-in-time supply chains; more comprehensive income support; better wages for low-wage essential workers; and stronger mechanisms of worker representation to ensure safe practices.

The last of those themes will be crucial for improvements across the spectrum of work, Stanford argues. “When workplaces, and society at large, ensure that workers have a recognized and valued role in shaping the parameters of work life (from safety to space to compensation), then work will indeed get better.”

Stanford is the former economist and director of policy for Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union, and recently returned to Canada from Australia where he established the Centre for Future Work. The Centre has opened a Canadian office (based in Vancouver). The new paper is the first output of a multi-year research project called PowerShare, which the Centre has launched in partnership with the Atkinson Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.


For more information or comment, please contact Alyssa O’Dell at 343-998-7575 or [email protected]. To access the 50-page paper, with a two-page summary, can be downloaded here.