Healing Gaia

Decent Work Hard to Find in Non-Profit Sector

Non-profit agencies provide the critical services so vital to creating an equitable society. Because of the role they play, non-profit workers deserve special attention.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published November 23, 2015

With the federal election demanding so much of our time and energy this past fall, many Ontarians may be unaware that the Ontario Ministry of Labour solicited input from the community and business sectors in order to update policy. Honourable John Murray and Labour lawyer Michael Mitchel were appointed to conduct the Changing Workplaces Review which will release its findings in early 2016.

Peter Clutterbuck, Senior Community Planning Consultant for the Social Planning Network of Ontario and Dr. Joey Edwardh, Executive Director of Community Development Halton represented the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO). Their September 10 presentation focused on the challenge of finding decent work within Ontario's non-profit community.

The SPNO is an incorporated non-profit organization with a membership of 20 local and regional social planning and community development councils across Ontario, each with its own extensive network of non-profit and charitable community-based service agencies. The SPNO exists to build and support community capacity not only for purposes of sound community planning but also to develop and strengthen the range and quality of social services and supports to vulnerable populations in Ontario's communities.

Clutterbuck and Edwardh's presentation highlighted the fact that precarious employment has become standard practice in the not for profit sector and is not only adversely affecting the lives of workers, but also the individuals, families, and communities dependent on these services.

Over 25 percent of all non-profit organizations in Canada are located in Ontario. These organizations employ almost one million Ontarians or one in six of all employees (2003).

Non-profits include institutions like hospitals and universities, as well as the core non-profit sector made up of community-based organizations such as the YMCA, food banks, hospices, assisted community living, sexual assault services, and family counselling services.

These agencies serve some of the most marginalized individuals and groups including children, youth and families, seniors, persons with physical and developmental disabilities and serious mental health problems, homeless and inadequately housed people, unemployed and low income people, immigrants and refugees.

In 2003, the rate of temporary vs. permanent employment in the non-profit sector was 31 percent or almost triple that for the for-profit sector (10.9 percent). The increase is attributable to temporary employment agencies placing workers in jobs as independent contractors with multiple health and social agencies.

These positions pay minimum and low wages without benefits. Employees work part-time work, on-call duty and short shifts. This means contract workers earn less than permanent staff doing the same work.

Generally, work within the charitable sector is seen as having low value even though it makes significant contributions to the economy. Non-profits contribute over $100.7 billion to Canada's Gross Domestic Product. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 community-based organizations contributed over $35.6 billion to the GDP which was more than the hospitality industry ($29.6 billion), agriculture ($13.6 billion), or motor vehicle manufacturing ($5.9 billion).

According to Edwardh, "Women tend to dominate the non-profit sector which raises issues of gender wage disparity. Despite the fact that this sector of the workforce is generally better educated and skilled, the women doing the work are poorly compensated. Precarious employment, low wages, fewer health and retirement benefits all have immediate and long-term economic impacts."

Non-profits often depend on public funds for their core funding. During the 1980's and 1990's funding for social safety nets was severely cut while demands on services increased. This forced many non-profits to move to project-based funding which is short term and intended to achieve a very specific goal. This type of funding limits the services that can be provided while undermining employee retention.

In order to quantify volunteer hours they are often assigned a monetary value. This reveals the number of full-time jobs displaced by free labour. When cash is tight and contracts expire volunteers often replace employees. Those employed in the non-profit field often have stories about applying for scarce positions only to be asked to volunteer with the same agency when they don't get hired.

If the goal is to end social inequities then one-off projects need to be replaced by broader goals that build social innovation, civic engagement, and social inclusion. This requires consistent, on-going funding. Core funding would also enable agencies to increase wages and retain a skilled workforce.

Clutterbuck and Edwardh support an Employment Standards Act that:

Non-profit agencies provide the critical services so vital to creating an equitable society. Because of the role they play, non-profit workers deserve special attention. To that end, the SPNO recommended that the Minister of Labour sit down with representatives from both the community services sector and the funding sector to support and promote decent employment practices within community services.

Let's hope this valuable information hasn't fallen on deaf ears.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By CP (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2015 at 17:10:43

Thank you for bringing some attention to this issue.

I worked for 10+ years for a non-profits (some very large, national, very recognizable organizations) where I never once had benefits, worked a string of contract, casual, and part-time positions, was regularly asked to "volunteer" my hours, and sometimes would go months between paycheques. None of these types of positions offered benefits. Worse was working 24/7 without regular schedules, being called in at the last minute, working 44+ hours per week and being cheated out of overtime. Myself, and my colleagues, regularly put our lives and health at risk for sub-par pay.

Despite my education, I've taken a "lesser" job as a receptionist where I get paid for the work I do (and my salary is far better than the pennies I was making in non-profits), I have benefits, I get regular breaks, I am not asked to volunteer, my life isn't at risk, and I work a regular schedule. I will never go back to working in a non-profit.

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