How Unstable Work Makes It Hard To Exercise Your Rights

As Canadians, we have laws that guarantee our basic rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, if you’re employed in unstable work it’s difficult to exercise those rights.

This means that precarious workers, those on contract or those who work in the gig economy can be easily taken advantage of. From wage theft to workplace harassment to health and safety violations ­– there is no shortage of ways that employers can abuse employees.

In Alberta alone, research found that 70 per cent of disabling workplace injuries go unreported, mostly because employees are afraid to speak up. A study by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that sexual harassment happens more frequently in industries dominated by low-wage workers in unstable work where employees are less likely to say anything. 

Without proper representation, those in unstable work are left alone to fend for themselves.

Here are just a few of the ways unstable work makes it harder to stand up for yourself.

Not Covered by Workplace Legislation

This is a huge issue for contractors. Most contractors are not covered by certain workplace legislation because they are not considered an ‘employee.’ They aren’t entitled to vacation pay or termination pay if they are suddenly let go. They also typically have no benefits. This is a big reason that many companies are turning to hire contractors rather than employees. Less accountability, more profits.

Easily Replaceable

Many in precarious work are being paid low wages and are younger and inexperienced. This makes them easy to replace, and the reminder of that makes it difficult to speak up in the workplace. This is why many employers have switched to part-time and short-term employees. They often give the excuse of a ‘bad economy’ or ‘the recession’ when they let employees go or threaten to replace them.


Employers now hire more part-time employees because they can use competition as leverage. When you have a large pool of part-time employees, as is the case in many retail or service industry jobs, you can use shifts as rewards. And they can hand out these shifts at a moment’s notice. This makes it harder to speak up about workplace issues when you know you can be punished by having much-needed shifts taken away.

Systems Out of Date

The Employment Insurance system has become out-of-date and doesn’t take into consideration the current economy of unstable work. The EI system has had recent changes that gives less money for a shorter period of time the more you use the program. It’s supposed to encourage people to find work but doesn’t help the people who really need it. This means if you stand up for yourself and are fired, you have less of a safety net.

Less Aware of Resources

Many workers don’t speak up because they don’t know who to contact if they are having issues at work. Employers who are violating laws are not likely to provide those resources and navigating labour laws on your own can be difficult.

Afraid to Be Fired

This is the main reason workers in this type of employment don’t stand up for themselves. Many of these workers don’t have access to lawyers or labour law experts who can fight for them if they are wrongly terminated. What is even worse is that for many migrant workers, they can be sent back to their country of origin if they are fired. 


Alberta has laws and resources in place that do make it easier to stand up for yourself if you are in unstable work. The Alberta Human Rights Commission outlines what is expected of employers and if you feel your rights are being violated you can contact them confidentially. You can also contact the Employer Resource Contact Centre if you have any questions. 

Tell Us Your Story.

You have an important story and we want to hear it. If you’re experiencing anything that is making you hate your job, share it publicly or privately with us.

Tell us your story

The Distress Line is a great resource to call if you are feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to. 

You can contact them at 403.266.HELP (4357) in Calgary, 
780-482-HELP (4357) in Edmonton and 1-800-232-7288 in rural areas.

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