Media Releases

Exploring the perils of precarious employment

February 25, 2013

Injured on the job himself, a UTSC student brings first-hand perspective to a study of immigrants working low-pay, insecure jobs

TORONTO, ON — Alber­to Almei­da knew that as an auto mechanic’s appren­tice he was expect­ed to pay his dues doing dirty and heavy work. But that dues-pay­ing end­ed in a dis­abling back injury at the age of 17, cut­ting his career as a mechan­ic short.

Now Almei­da is a UTSC under­grad­u­ate soci­ol­o­gy stu­dent study­ing the prob­lems immi­grants face with pre­car­i­ous employ­ment. Work­ing with Patri­cia Lan­dolt, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and chair of the Depart­ment of Soci­ol­o­gy, he has con­duct­ed stud­ies into work­ing con­di­tions for pre­car­i­ous­ly employed immi­grants in the Black Creek area – his old neigh­bor­hood – and dis­cov­ered that his expe­ri­ence and that of his fam­i­ly isn’t unique.

“For a lot of peo­ple, even though they may be work­ing in pain, they choose to con­tin­ue in order to make ends meet,” Almei­da says. “You have peo­ple who actu­al­ly break down and cry because they’re frus­trat­ed, they don’t feel like there’s a way out … I know what it’s like, and it’s not easy at all.”

Although the peo­ple Lan­dolt and Almei­da stud­ied often have uni­ver­si­ty degrees and pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence back home, they get stuck in inse­cure, low-pay­ing jobs that cause them emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal pain. The health wor­ries and stress can be so bad that they actu­al­ly pre­vent peo­ple from find­ing bet­ter work.

“Once they’re stuck it’s excep­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult to climb out. A lot of them only hope that their chil­dren will end up doing bet­ter. A lot of them just give up on them­selves,” Almei­da says.

Almei­da is the son of immi­grants from Ecuador and Chile. He had always loved cars and was hap­py to be hired as a mechanic’s appren­tice at the age of 16. But one night he and anoth­er appren­tice were clean­ing the garage and tried to move a heavy trans­mis­sion by them­selves. The oth­er appren­tice dropped his end, and Almei­da went down with an injury to his low­er back.

The injury is per­ma­nent, and end­ed any hope of a career as a mechan­ic. It made many oth­er jobs impos­si­ble for him, and made it hard to get hired even for jobs he could do phys­i­cal­ly. Almeida’s moth­er was sup­port­ive, though, and encour­aged him to go to uni­ver­si­ty. He took her advice and came to UTSC, where he majored in both soci­ol­o­gy and phi­los­o­phy.

The research project he worked on was designed to exam­ine in detail how immi­grants in the Black Creek area cope with job inse­cu­ri­ty. Almei­da worked con­duct­ing inter­views with peo­ple from sev­en dif­fer­ent lan­guage groups. The inter­vie­wees worked tem­po­rary jobs, home care work, fast food work or oth­er jobs with low wages, uncer­tain hours and lit­tle job secu­ri­ty.

Those inter­viewed report­ed health prob­lems and stress. They often had to jug­gle more than one exhaust­ing job, work­ing with­out enough sleep, afraid to call in sick for fear of being fired. The stress often led to fights in the fam­i­ly, which also had neg­a­tive effects for the chil­dren in the house­hold.

“There’s a huge sense of inse­cu­ri­ty, a huge sense of insta­bil­i­ty, and a great lev­el of imper­ma­nence that comes with your posi­tion. You can be dis­posed of any day of the week. Why? Because there’s anoth­er per­son who will come in that’s just as des­per­ate who needs the job as well,” Almei­da says.

It can cause stress-relat­ed prob­lems like anx­i­ety and depres­sion, high blood pres­sure, headaches and sleep dis­tur­bances. Per­haps worse is the “down­ward, cumu­la­tive spi­ral” that occurs, and keeps qual­i­fied peo­ple from get­ting bet­ter jobs, he says.

Almeida’s own moth­er suf­fered through the same sit­u­a­tion. Although she had a uni­ver­si­ty degree from Chile, she had to work low-pay­ing jobs. Almei­da says that even as a boy he noticed the incon­gruity between his mother’s uni­ver­si­ty diplo­ma on the wall, and the Burg­er King cap she put on to go to work every day.

Lan­dolt said that when Almei­da came into the project he was pas­sion­ate and engaged, and because of his per­son­al expe­ri­ence was able to relate well to the peo­ple they were study­ing. Work­ing on the project has taught him how to take that per­son­al expe­ri­ence and trans­form it into schol­ar­ly research.

“Alberto’s pret­ty amaz­ing. He’s become a real­ly good researcher,” she says.

The research project report can be found at:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Don Camp­bell
Media & Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Assis­tant
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough
Tel: 416–208-2938