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Aspects of quality of employment in Canada, February and March 2020

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Released: 2021-03-22

The labour market in Canada has experienced unprecedented changes over the last 12 months. Entire sectors of the economy have been subject to temporary restrictions on business activities as a result of public health measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, many workers have seen changes in working conditions, such as teleworking, reduced work hours and greater job insecurity.

From mid-February to mid-March 2020, the 2020 Survey on Quality of Employment (SQE) collected information on aspects of job quality in Canada from the perspective of workers. Estimates reflect employment characteristics before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to establishing a baseline for future analysis of quality of employment in Canada. Unless otherwise stated, the analysis focuses on the 23.5 million workers who were employed in February or March 2020 or who had last worked in 2018 or after, and excludes unpaid family workers.

About half of workers in Canada had access to paid sick leave in their jobs prior to the pandemic

As Canada entered the pandemic in March 2020, just over half (52.1%) of people who worked in the previous two years had access to paid sick leave in their current or last job.

Just under 7 in 10 permanent employees had access to paid sick leave (66.3%). Among temporary employees, 4 in 10 employees with a contract of a fixed duration (41.0%) had access to paid sick leave, compared with 1 in 10 (12.6%) among other temporary employees, including on-call, seasonal, and casual workers.

Few self-employed Canadians (6.2%) had access to paid sick leave through their job, particularly self-employed workers without employees (1.1%).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Just over half of workers had access to paid sick leave prior to the pandemic
Just over half of workers had access to paid sick leave prior to the pandemic

Most workers with an irregular schedule would have preferred regular hours

In February and March 2020, about 2 in 10 workers (22.6%), including unpaid family workers, had an irregular work schedule in their current or last job. For most (62.3%), this involved variation in both the schedule and the number of hours worked.

Among people with an irregular schedule, 6 in 10 would have preferred a regular schedule (58.4%) and 2 in 10 worked less than they would have liked (22.0%). Workers with a regular schedule were generally more satisfied with their work hours; less than 1 in 10 worked less than they would have liked (8.8%).

As a result of the pandemic, more Canadians have faced greater uncertainty in their hours. In February 2021, according to data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), 1.2 million workers had a job, but worked less than half of their usual hours for reasons likely related to COVID-19.

Autonomy and control was the main reason for self-employment

Data from the LFS indicate that the recovery in self-employment has slowed in recent months, with employment levels further behind pre-COVID levels than among paid employees.

There are a number of reasons why Canadians become self-employed. According to the SQE, in February and March 2020, 4 in 10 self-employed workers (40.4%) reported that the main reason why they were working or had recently worked in this capacity was to have autonomy and control over their work hours, wage rate and other aspects of work. Other common reasons include being passionate about the work (17.9%) and working in their field of expertise (17.2%).

In contrast, less than 1 in 20 (4.1%) self-employed workers were unable to find work as an employee.

  Note to readers

The 2020 Survey on Quality of Employment (SQE) aims to provide a better understanding of aspects of job quality in Canada from the perspective of workers, including both employees and the self-employed.

The SQE was conducted as part of Statistics Canada's RapidStats Program and was funded by Employment and Social Development Canada.

Data were collected in the provinces in February and March 2020. The approximated response rate for in-scope persons for the SQE is 37.2%. After applying survey sampling weights, the survey is representative of non-institutionalized persons 15 years of age or older who have worked in a job or business in the past two years, who lived in one of Canada's 10 provinces, and who were not living in a collective dwelling or on a reserve.

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