By Isabel Inclan in Toronto, Ontario
Having temporary or multiple jobs used to be common for new immigrants who needed to gain the so-called “Canadian experience” and wait until their academic papers are credited, or study for a new career. But for many immigrants and visible minorities, this condition, known as a gig economy, had been the only way to have enough money for a living and to do their passion or profession.
In interviews for New Canadian Media, some Latin American immigrants highlight the main inconvenience of having temporary jobs: minimum or null labour rights, an unstable work schedule that affects their family life, and having a work unrelated to their passion.
As a singer in a rock band, Saul Torres, knows very well what a gig is. In his natal city, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, the artist used to work as a full-time singer but in Canada, he has faced many challenges.
“I used to sing six days a week and lived well, but when I arrived in Canada, I found that it was very difficult to find musicians interested in a Hispanic band. I barely had one or two days a week for play, which forced me to look for other jobs. One time I had three jobs: construction in the morning, a restaurant in the evening, and singing in a bar at night.”
For more than a decade, Torres has worked in the construction field or in a restaurant in order to keep his passion, music. Beyond his “gigs” as a singer in the bars of Brampton and Barrie, he has sung with his band in summer festivals at Harbourfront Centre and Dundas Square.
“As circumstance permitted, I have tried to adapt the temporary jobs to what I like more, my music, but because of the necessity of money I have to take jobs that I don´t like or even dangerous for me.”
Torres recently finished his studies as physiotherapist and said “My idea is to do something that I like too and continuing with my music as a singer and producer.”
In Carlos Enrique Terry’s case, the gig economy has kept the Peruvian lawyer from his profession. Instead, he’s had multiple part-time jobs over the last 26 years, including cleaning Toronto streets, being the superintendent of a building, and writing articles for a Hispanic newspaper.
“Generally speaking, as an immigrant [it] is very difficult to find a job related to your profession. If I wanted to work as a lawyer in Canada, I would have to study a minimum of six years, but when you have a family this is a tough situation. I am not a journalist but write articles for a Hispanic newspaper, [it] was the closest field to my profession.”
Terry says that to study in Canada is too expensive so “we [immigrants] have to look for an occupation, not for a profession.” Sometimes, this father of three and survivor of two strokes is hired by an immigration lawyer as a interpreter and translator. “If they have Spanish speaking clients, I have a temporary job.”
Ana Garay´s jobs are part of the gig economy as well. She works part-time as an Uber and Lyft driver, she also drives a school bus in addition to the supporting the transportation necessities of temporary farm workers in St Catharines. She also has to help her husband to look after their two kids.
None of her four jobs are related to her educational background. “This is a way of developing a new career. I look for new challenges in everything I do and hope to build on the skills I acquire,” she said.
“We have to look for an occupation, not for a profession.”
Argentinian Oscar Paratore was lucky to work at Xerox for more than 20 years as a full-time employee. “I started as an assembler and then promoted as an inspector and later as RTS operator.” The company closed the copy machine-making factory meaning Paratore had to find other work as a delivery man, and later as a cleaner.
From his life in Buenos Aires until now, Oscar´s passion has been for basketball games. He regularly watches games and chronicles them in writing, especially the Toronto Raptors. “My temporary jobs have helped me to do what I like. The money from my alternative jobs is to pay the parking lot at Raptors games.” Now retired, the basketball fan continues to do his chronicles for both Hispanic radio and newspaper. “They don´t pay me, but this is my passion.”
Ramona Enriquez has been working in the administration field for many years. “I have never had multiple jobs at once,” she says, but in recent years she’s worked temporarily through agencies. “Through the years, many fields are becoming very competitive. For this reason, sometimes I worked temporary/contracts through agencies.”
For Terry and Garay, having multiple jobs have some benefits. “The only benefit of temporary work is that it keeps you active. When we are unemployed, we don´t do anything and we can get sick. Keeping active and productive, even for a few months, is better,” Terry shared. While for Garay, the part-time schedule allows her to attend to her son who has special needs son and her two-year-old daughter. “I often have to go to specialists and other doctors’ appointments with my son during weekdays.”
One of the benefits of the part-time job for Torres is having more time for his music. “I like the possibility of having part-time jobs because I have the freedom to rehearse, sing and produce my music.”
“without job stability is hard to progress in the job field.”
However, temporary jobs are killing labour rights.
The interviewees agree that the most temporary jobs domain in the work market, the fewer labour rights they enjoy. “In my 12 years in Canada, with multiple jobs, I have never had labour benefits,” Torres revealed. Paratore recalls that in his 26 years at Xerox he enjoyed labour benefits but not as cleaner neither as a basketball chronicler.
“There are no benefits attached to any of my temporary jobs,” says Ana who highlights that while the migrant farm workers are covered by social benefits, she doesn’t have any benefits because of her part-time condition.
“The worst part of this kind of job is that you don’t have labour stability. You cannot plan something for next month because you don´t know if you will have a job,” argued Carlos, who says he was the first Hispanic journalist to interview politicians such as Jean Chrétien, Bob Rae and Mike Harris.
The interviewees agree that there are probably more immigrants involved in the gig economy, and it’s a kind of social marginalization that puts immigrants at a clear disadvantage with temporary jobs with few or null benefits.
“Unfortunately, I believe the gig economy is the reality for future generations as even those who complete college in Canada often find themselves either working for minimum wage in their field or having to take other temporary jobs outside their majors. This is the way of the future. Everyone is looking to save cost and that includes employers. If they can meet the demands of their business by using temporary workers it is a lot more profitable for them. They would not have to pay for any benefits for their employees,” concluded Garay.
They, also agree that there is a trend to hire more workers for temporary jobs which affect labour stability. Unless the government promote labour politics, the employers will continue hiring people according to the demand. “If they need it, they take you, but always the workers will lose,” says Carlos, who adds “without job stability is hard to progress in the job field. The government should force the employers to respect the contracts.”
Some of the interviewees think that age or race play a role in the gig economy with more visible minorities involved. Even though, Enriquez is convinced that “age and race has nothing to do with workers that want to succeed.”
This article is the first of our series called “Immigrants and the Gig Economy” which explores how immigrants are affected by, and benefit from the gig economy. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity.
Isabel Inclan is a Toronto-based journalist and a member of the NCM Collective. She has worked in Mexico and Canada; in Canada as a foreign correspondent since 1999. Her specialities are politics, trade, economics, culture and community issues. Isabel has a Bachelor in Journalism and is a Master’s candidate in the Communication and Culture program at York-Ryerson.