Precarious employment, gig work and gender-based violence in Canada: A knowledge synthesis and recommendations for policy decision-making

About the project

Gig work is a non-standard or informal work arrangement; a category of precarious work characterized by its short-term, casual, and uncertain nature. Finding flexible, informal work (or “gigs”) is one way that individuals at risk for or experiencing violence balance the need for employment with the need for flexible access to work. While gig work offers flexible access to the labour market, it is often temporary, part-time, and low-paying and has been shown to contribute to increased worker vulnerabilities.

This project applied a critical interpretive synthesis approach to explore current publications from Canada and other countries in the Global North (n=118). The synthesis focused on reports that included women engaged in non-standard, precarious forms of work (especially gig work) with the aim of understanding their gendered experiences. We attempted to apply an intersectional lens exploring how other identities (such as ethnicity, race, ability, age and gender) shaped the experience of precarious, non-standard or gig employment relationships and the risk for GBV. Our partnership with Women’s Centres Connect of Nova Scotia provided insight from the context of service via a practice-based environmental scan and knowledge exchange meetings, which supported the co-creation of policy recommendations.

Key findings

  • In Canada, precarious employment increased by more than 50% over the past two decades. By 2016, 9.5% of Canadians reported involvement in the gig economy. Women are over-represented in precarious/non-standard employment (including gig work), especially:
    • marginalized and/or racialized groups (BIPOC, newcomer women, immigrants) 
    • women with lower levels of education 
    • young women
    • trans-women or those who identify as genderqueer
    • mothers (especially single parent) 
    • rural-dwelling
  • However, few studies offer analyses that separate factors such as gender, race or ability and offer insight into the complexity of worker experience based on intersections of identities, location or community, and women’s gendered experience within the gig workforce is not well understood. 
  • Although the number of men and women participating in platform-mediated gig work is approximately equal, women outnumber men within ‘feminized’ sectors including customer and domestic services, administration and support, legal assistance, translation, writing, and sales/marketing. Women work a larger number of total hours but are paid 37% less than men, despite similar customer ratings.
  • Women have taken advantage of the flexibility offered by platform-mediated gig work; however, reported risks for women include increased work-related violence, family-work conflict, financial instability, compromised mental health outcomes, decreased well-being, and poorer perceived health.
  • So-called gender neutral/inclusive algorithmic management systems used by platform-based services disregard women’s gendered experiences, thereby, creating environments that leave women open to bias (e.g., restricting access to jobs and visibility to potential clients) and increase their risk for experiencing harassment, discrimination, and episodes of violence or abuse. 
  • Misclassification of workers as “self-employed” or an “independent contractor” increases worker vulnerability through loss of workplace, lack of access to formal benefits and support, and demands placed on personal resources to support task/gig completion. In addition, task-based gig work is decentralized, invisible and isolated. Creating supportive connections and communications between workers is often discouraged, as are reports of unsafe working conditions, attacks, or harassment from clients.
  • Covid-19 She-cession

    Women experienced disproportionate impacts:

    • Increased pressure to resume traditional gender roles (domestic and childcare responsibilities), while finding flexible ways to stay connected to the labour market and maintain professional development.
    • Greater job and income loss compared to men; greater likelihood of shorter-term temporary work; reduced likelihood of return to full-time work.
    • Increased risk for GBV associated with financial insecurity, increased household stress, and lockdown/confinement conditions exacerbated by gaps in social benefits/protection programs to support women who experience violence.

Policy implications

Social policy and protections should be gender-responsive and place-based, considering the unique experiences and challenges faced by specific groups within the gig worker population. Addressing identified vulnerabilities associated with loss of workplace may serve to mitigate risk as would strengthening public policy related to child and dependent care, and provision of longer-term, stable investments in funding for policy and programs aimed at the reduction of social and economic barriers experienced by women.

  • Change labour code worker classification and provide measurable mechanisms for improved access to worker rights, supports, benefits and protections to mitigate vulnerabilities associated with loss of workplace, including: 
    • Equitable access to worker supports, benefits, compensation and protection.
    • Access to federally provided extended supports and benefits.
    • Access to income supplementation.
  • Access to universal child and dependent care helps women reconcile demands of care provision with the demands of employment. In addition to easing isolation, access to child and dependent care supports women in engagement in training and skills development and facilitates participation in job searching and labour market participation.
    • Adoption of public policies for family-friendly parental and family leave (not tied to workplace classification), including harmonized parental leaves to support women’s professional and economic advancement.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Katherine Salter (she/her), Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University:

Elizabeth McGibbon (she/her), Professor, Faculty of Science, St. Francis Xavier University:

Donna Halperin (she/her), Professor, Rankin School of Nursing, St. Francis Xavier University:

For information related to community programming and impact: Cora Cole (she/her), Coordinator at Women's Centre Connect, NS:

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