Work and Health Research Lab

Precarious employment and vulnerable workers

Teaching online in the post-COVID lockdown world: Health and safety needs of online teachers in Ontario and Bangladesh

Post-COVID lockdown, work has increasingly been online. This two-year New Frontiers in Research Fund study examines the work organization and occupational health impacts for elementary and high school teachers and tutors of teaching online. Working closely with our Stakeholder Advisory Committees in each country, the researchers are examining online teaching needs of Ontario and Bangladeshi teachers and conducting a related scoping review of international literature. The study will contribute to economic recovery policies that are useful to Canadian and Bangladeshi education workers and policymakers.

University of Waterloo (Canada) research team: Ellen MacEachen, Jen Whitson, Janice Aurini, Stephanie Premji, Pamela Hopwood. Michaella Miller, Yasmeen Almomani, Sharia Hoque.

North South University (Bangladesh) research team: Ishrat Sultana, Tauhid Hossain Khan, Maria Maskura, Iffat Jahan, M.D. Moniruzzaman Khan.

Visit the study page

Gig couriers in a pandemic: Containing the occupational and public health impact

Gig courier workers, such as Uber Eats, Amazon Flex, and Lyft drivers have been busier than ever during the Canadian COVID-19 pandemic as the public attempts to avoid illness by ordering take-away food, shopping online and taking ride-hails rather than public transportation. This places self-employed gig courier workers in a unique position to become infected with COVID-19 and transmit it to others as they move people, food and packages from one location to another. The goal of this CIHR-funded study is to develop custom-made interventions to reduce illness exposure and community disease transmission related to gig couriers who move people, food and packages.

Research team: Ellen MacEachen, Shannon Majowicz, Samantha Meyer with Steve Durant, Joyceline Amoako, Megan Crouch, Yamin Jahangir, Pamela Hopwood, Antonela Ilac, Bobbi Rotolo, Marina Angel, and Meera Parthipan.

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Sick leave and social distancing in the age of precarious employment

In recent decades, Canada and other advanced economies have undergone a significant shift toward insecure, precarious employment. The income insecurity of precarious employment (e.g. fear of job loss, non-renewal of contracts) means these workers are less able and willing to report illness and take sick leave. As such, COVID-19 recommendations to stay home sick may not be received and actioned by low-wage front-line workers, including grocery store cashiers, food delivery gig workers, and other service industry workers. This this research will uncover how individuals in precarious employment understand and weigh choices and navigate recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our goal for this IRSST-funded Ontario-Quebec comparative study is to identify viable conditions for preventing COVID-19 transmission in precarious work environments by developing strategies to address the unique circumstances of this population.

Ontario research team: Ellen MacEachen, Shannon Majowicz, Samantha Meyer with Steve Durant, Joyceline Amoako, Megan Crouch, Yamin Jahangir, Pamela Hopwood, and Antonela Ilac.

Quebec research team: Daniel Cote, Marie Laberge, Jessica Dube with Ai-Thuy Huynh.

Read our scoping review here: A rapid scoping review of COVID-19 and vulnerable workers: intersecting occupational and public health issues 

UberX and Health

Self-employment and the growing ‘sharing economy’ marketplace are growing. We lack models to consider health risk mechanisms for entrepreneurial organisations of self-employed individuals connected by new technological platforms such as Uber and Airbnb. Taking the case of UberX ride sharing, we conducted a developmental evaluation of occupational health risk and regulation opportunities in the sharing economy.

Read our final report: Driving For Uber: A Developmental Evaluation of Occupational Health and Safety Conditions of Ride-Share Work

Research team: Ellen MacEachen, Phil Bigelow, Ron Saunders, Agnieszka Kosny, Samantha Meyer, Emily Reid-Musson, Emma Bartel, Sharanya Varatharajan, Julia Goyal. 

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Return to Work and Precarious Workers

This study comprises the Ontario component of a larger national SSHRC-CIHR Healthy Productive Work  Partnership study that documents the application of workers’ compensation and human rights legislation in force in Québec, Ontario, Newfoundland and Alberta as applied to precariously employed injured workers and in relation to return to work. The Ontario study (directed by Ellen MacEachen) is examining the application of workers’ compensation legislation and human rights legislation among Ontario workers who are in precarious employment.

Research team: Ellen MacEachen, Katherine Lippel, Sue Sherifali, Tauhid Khan, Nicole Billias.

Work and Health in Temporary Work Agencies

We examined how temporary work agencies are organised and how they manage injury prevention and return to work. This study shed light on legal responsibilities of Ontario agencies and client employers and on their understandings of injury prevention accountability. Our data consisted of an analysis of legislation, case law, and policy governing Ontario temporary work agencies, focus groups with workers hired by temporary agencies and hiring employers, and in-depth interviews with temporary work agency managers. Impact: This study led to a change in law to protect the health of temporary agency workers: Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014.

Read the full papers about the impact of experience-rating and legal protections for temporary agency workers.

See YouTube presentations about perverse regulation incentives, health and safety issues and management of work and health in temporary work agencies.

See other study information here.

Flexible Knowledge Workers and Workplace Health

Flexible work is now endemic in modern economies. It has been depicted as accommodating employees’ work-family balance needs but also for fueling contingency and job insecurity. We examined the workplace dimensions of flexibility and how occupational workplace health is managed for skilled knowledge workers in Canadian software firms. We found that the discourse of flexibility, and the work practices this fosters, make possible and reinforce an increased intensity of work that is driven by the demands of technological pace and change that characterize the global information technology and computer software industries. Occupational health management became “strategies of resilience” to buttress workers’ capacities to withstand intensive and uncertain working conditions.

Read the findings paper “you are free to set your own hours’.

Small Businesses and Workplace Health

Small businesses (SBs) play an important role in global economies, employ half of all workers, and pose distinct workplace health problems. Yet, occupational health policies and systems are based on a model of large firms. In this line of research, we examine the mismatch between small firms and occupational health policies and propose new models.

Read the systematic review findings.

Read findings about health and social relations of small business work, self reliance policy in small firms and refocusing upstream.