On April 25, 2006 the Laidlaw Foundation presented a forum at Innis Town Hall focusing on the findings of Dr. Michael Ornstein published in his report: Ethno-Racial Groups in Toronto, 1971-2001: A Demographic and Socio-Economic Profile, conducted and published by the Institute for Social Research at York University.
I really appreciated the way Ornstein addressed various myths and surmises that even people of great good will might have about the difficulties faced by both visible minorities and immigrants in Toronto. And it was great to hear the distinction made by panel participants between the problems of immigrants and the problems faced by visible minorities–where those problems are shared and where they are separate issues. Commentators were correct that the waters get muddied where these issues are confused.
Dr. Ornstein’s report is available for download on the Institute for Social Research web site: . Panelists discussing Dr. Ornstein’s findings and responding to audience questions were: Rick Eagan (St. Christopher House and the MISSWA project), Debbie Douglas (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants) and Amanuel Melles (United Way of Greater Toronto).
Ornstein remarked that the role of social research statistics are to “provoke, intimidate and encourage” which he elaborated to suggest that such research provokes discussion of solutions, intimidates those who would promulgate myths and undermine positive initiatives and encourages community-builders.
For the most part the report and panel presentations were well-received by audience members, although one member of the audience criticized the report and presentation in not examining the roots of white privilege sufficiently and suggested that certain initiatives were racist in their intention and/or results. In this regard the audience member named the Safe Schools Initiative as unfairly excluding black students from school. Hmm. Since all students have an equal right to be free from bullying in their schools, this lone commentator’s remarks seemed rather off-base and out of step with the positive community-building spirit of the forum and subsequent efforts likely to gain momentum through the Ornstein report. Other commentators congratulated Ornstein on exposing the myth that the difficulties faced by visible minorities in Toronto were solely those of settlement due to recent immigration.
Congratulations to the Laidlaw Foundation on funding this research and making the public panel discussion possible.
I just revisited a post I made some years ago when I was first experiencing age-discrimination.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission asks the following:
Have you ever encountered questions, such as…“Do you really think you could handle this job? You know it takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Besides, we are looking for someone with career potential.”“You don’t need this training program. At your age, what would the benefit be?”“Well, you are getting on. What do you expect at your age?”
When I read this I had to say, “Oh wow, have I!” About as soon as I turned 50 I began to hear exactly those remarks from some employers.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission tells us that “Such comments reflect ageism — an attitude that makes assumptions about older persons and their abilities and puts labels on them. Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young. Age discrimination is a consequence of ageist attitudes.”
I love the language about a tendency to design society on the basis that everyone is young. I remember a conversation that I had once with a younger co-worker who was asserting quite vehemently that a particular activity she was coordinating would suffer if older adults were included with younger adults–because it would be “less fun”, the older adults would “feel uncomfortable” and be “less adaptable” and other generalizations. Boy, does that run contrary to my own real life experience. From the time I was a teen myself, some of my best times and growthful experiences have been obtained participating in groups with a healthy mix of ages. No generation is without its fun and adaptable members and no generation has cornered the market on sourpusses either!
It’s worth repeating, “Ageism is also a tendency to view and design society on the basis that everyone is young”. Oh, that makes me feel so sad, because I’ve always loved the company of the very young and the very old in my life. Yet I recognize that in the media, in advertising, in the structure of many activities we create this false generational rift. And the less time we spend with people of other age groups the vaster our ignorance and prejudice becomes.
Will the real “digital natives” please stand up?
One of the places where I most run into ageist assumptions is in the area of technological literacy. I often find employers and others making inaccurate assumptions about my computer savy. When they become aware that I am very computer literate, surprise is expressed. I’ve been complimented on being a “life-long learner” as though normal computer literacy in the workplace is unusual for a 50-something worker.
Again, my own experience is just the opposite. Those of us that came into the workforce around the same time as computers or just before, had to struggle with DOS, write batch files, work in word processing programs using on-screen codes that were the pre-cursors of html, and have a hands-on knowledge of our computer’s system configuration. With this experience, we are well-positioned to trouble-shoot problems, learn and understand html code, and design and work with databases. By contrast I have trained a number of young workers whose sole computer experience has been gameplaying, surfing the Internet, and email. While those young workers who have specific business training generally come to the workplace well prepared to use business applications, many employers hire young workers from other programs of study assuming computer knowledge that is simply not there. Often it is those of us who have been in the workplace for some time who train these workers to mailmerge, make mailing labels and to use desktop publishing programs.
I have been told that mature students entering the community college system in Ontario, are more likely to be exempted from an intro computer course on the basis of their scores on a test of computer knowledge than students coming to community college directly from high school. This does not surprise me although it flies in the face of the myth that any given 12 year old is more computer literate than any given 50 year old.
So I found it thought-provoking to read the information sheet located on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website. There’s a printable pdf version of the sheet available–suitable for posting in any workplace. Worried that posting such a sheet might be unwelcome in your workplace? Do you really want to work for an employer who discriminates on the basis of age and is blind to the strengths of older workers?
Let’s post this sheet broadly about the land and make sure that everyone knows that ageist remarks aren’t just tasteless and baseless–they are a violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Asked recently by the LEAF National Committee to complete a survey that included a recommendation of an issue warranting study by this national organization working in the area of women’s legal issues, I suggested the issue of false self-employment. This is a growing issue for workers, affecting far more women workers than men, and one where women have found it difficult to obtain reliable information.
In Social Determinants Of Health: Canadian Perspectives, published by Canadian Scholars’ Press in 2004, Dianne-Gabrielle Tremblay’s analysed the effect of globalization upon employment security.
She looks at the “new boundaryless careers” — no longer based on a vertical promotion ladder but instead nomadic with horizontal movement and new forms of organization and collaboration: team work, networks and virtual communities.
While this flexibility may be positive for certain sectors, she writes, it entails “precariousness, lack of stability and the lack of a career for others” as well as “`false’ self-employment, that is those who are dependent on one or more order-givers.”
The whole concept of “job security” is in doubt, she suggests, and this is a major factor in health and well-being. Furthermore, she notes, “This is especially the case among Canadian women.”
In the same year, 2004, Dr. Karen Hughes, author of Female Enterprise in the New Economy published by University of Toronto Press presented to the Canadian Standing Committee on the Status of Women. She identified false self-employment as a growing problem in which workers had neither the flexibility and empowerment of true self-employment nor the security and benefits of an employee entitled to the protection of Employment Insurance and CPP contributions. And when women have worked under a false self-employment arrangement and lose their jobs or retire, they are poorer than those women who had an employer who contributed to EI and CPP as required. So this really is an issue affecting women’s economic health and equity in our society.
I’m surprised that two years later, it is hard to find a lot of information about false self-employment while it is a practice that continues to grow in an increasingly globalized marketplace.
While more than half of self-employed workers report that they are involuntarily self-employed and would prefer employment, it’s fair to note that true self-employment works well for a lot of women. They are able to set their own hours, accept as many or as few jobs as they like, work flextime, work from home in some cases, while they are able to take appropriate tax deductions for their business expenses: tools, office, car and travel costs. Taking these deductions, they can invest in their own RRSP plan and also build savings to offset periods of shortage of work. This is a viable work choice for these workers.
How does false self-employment differ from this scenario? False self-employment occurs when the employee answers a job ad and the employer says, “you understand this is contract work?”. This can be confusing. Many prospective employees might think that this only refers to the time period of the contract. That this is shortterm work. However the employer will then use meaningless codewords like “service agreement”. What the employee is being told–whether they understand it or not–is that if hired they will be expected to perform like an employee (work regular hours in the employer’s place of business, use company equipment, not accept work from other employers, be subject to company rules and evaluation procedures, etc.) BUT they will not have income tax deducted from their paycheque, no EI benefits will be paid on their behalf, and no CPP contributions will be made.
The worker may be misinformed that this is a legal practice or convinced that “everyone is doing it” in a particular business sector. The worker may be misinformed by the employer about the way that a lack of employee status could be of benefit to the worker–strategies that actually involve tax fraud and liability for the worker.
The employer engaging in this employment practice is breaking Canadian tax law, plain and simple.
The pamphlet that outlines the difference between an employee and the self-employed is available for download here. In brief summary: if you work more than 50% of your paid work hours in the employers’ premises, if you use their tools, if you report to a boss, if you can’t accept other contracts, if you can’t determine your own hours of work, if you are paid a wage rather than taking profits from your business, if you can’t hire someone else to do your job for you (sub-contract) then–you are most-likely an employee under law. If you are a Canadian worker and believe that you are an employee but your employer is classifying you as self-employed to avoid paying benefits you can file a form to request that Canada Revenue conduct an investigation to determine your employment status.
Who are the employers who are engaging in this shoddy practice–dodging paying their fair share towards the social safety net in our society? It’s surprising but a number of non-profits and arts organizations supported in a large part by government grants are among the worst offenders. There seems to be a mindset there that because their cause is so important, it’s okay to treat workers in a cavalier fashion, and that any worker who wants even the minimal protection afforded Canadian workers is somehow selfish and less-dedicated to whatever “cause” the organization supports. Or, in some cases, the organization’s Board of Directors has a misguided notion that they will be less financially responsible if they avoid having an employer relationship with a lone administrator or general manager of a small non-profit. Boards may believe that they have less financial risk by mis-representing the employment relationship. Sometimes there is a belief that it will be easier to terminate a worker if unsatisfactory or if a grant ends.
But what’s the truth?
First, organizations who espouse high ethical principles should start with their own workers and contribute to the overall health of society just on principal. But pragmatically, when organizations or companies misrepresent the employment status of workers they are not helping themselves but rather exposing themselves to financial risks. If it is found that a worker’s status has been represented, the employer can be forced to pay both the employee and employer’s share of all remittances owed to the Receiver General for the employment period in dispute. Rather than skinting the government and saving money, the employer may have to pay double. In addition, any action the employer takes that may be in violation of provincial labour law can be liable to penalty if the Employment Standards branch rules that the worker’s status was that of an employee under law. Companies have to ask themselves whether fooling some workers some of the time into believing that they have no rights if they sign a self-employed contract (while working as employees) is worth the financial risks, potential bad publicity and plain bad karma.
But what if the worker wants to represent their work as self-employed?
Certainly it might be very tempting for low-income earners to want to avoid paying their share of income tax and benefit contributions. But is it fair of employers to lure gullible, cash-strapped and ill-informed workers into a dangerous deception? If these workers fail to pay taxes at all, hoping to slip under the radar, they are liable to huge fines and back taxes at a future time. If t
he worker misrepresents themselves as self-employed and claims self-employed deductions such as computer, office supplies, home office and car expenses, they will have a huge problem supporting these deductions when it becomes clear that they spent their full work day in the employer’s premises, using the employer’s equipment. The worker is forced to lie through their teeth and take all the risks of that in order to gain the benefits of the self-employed status that the employer has falsely assigned to them. Not only is the employer lying but the worker is tempted, even coached by some employers, to lie in order to avoid a crushing tax bill. Should the worker refuse to lie, pay their taxes as the employed person that they were under the definition of Revenue Canada–while being unable to produce a T-4 slip as required–alarm bells will ring and once again the employers who thought to avoid responsibility, cost and make their lives simpler–will find their lives suddenly very complicated.
I’d like to see LEAF and other women’s and workers’ rights organization make more information available on this subject and where warranted take employers to court. I see education as key because I believe that both employers and workers are very misinformed on this issue. When government-supported non-profits engage in this practice it seems doubly wrong. It’s a case of biting the hand that feeds you. Provincial and federal governments are losing money for social programs when workers are forced into false self-employment. I’d like to see policies in place that require the re-payment of government grants by organizations who avoid their financial responsibilities to workers. I’d also like to see clear employment protections in place for workers who whistle-blow on employers engaged in employing workers while not affording them their legally required employment benefits.
I’d welcome emails from anyone facing this situation and I am considering ways of taking this issue forward politically. If there is any group out there already doing this, I’d like to know about it!