A lot has happened since I last posted. On the bad side, I’ve had a whole whack of viruses and also an allergic reactions to a new medication. On the good side, I’ve started my own business freelancing at the type of work I had been doing before as a side job. I have business cards, a web site, and an HST number. It feels great to have regained a measure of control over my future, although I sure could use some new clients! (For privacy reasons, unfortunately, I am not going to identify myself or my business in any more detail).
I admit that I like the flexibility of freelance work — if it’s a nice day, and I have the energy, I can go outside, and if I’m tired, I can sleep — but I miss the social aspects of working with colleagues in person. There are no benefits, but in my previous job, I didn’t have benefits, either. I did, however, have at least some paid sick days. Now I’m only paid for the hours I work. Even though I am making more than double the hourly rate I made before, it still doesn’t pay the bills. In fact, it’s been more than a month that Service Canada has been trying to decide whether I qualify for employment insurance (EI) because the number of hours of work I’ve had in the past while has been ridiculously low. I’ve been networking as much as a person with bronchitis can manage. In the meantime, I’ve been living off my savings.
It comes down to this: businesses like mine are, unfortunately “precarious” jobs, “temporary, contract or casual positions” without benefits and/or job security. This type of work situation is increasingly common in Canada; according to a recent study by researchers at McMaster University and the United Way Toronto, more than 40% of the workers in the Greater Toronto Area are in the same boat. And the government social programs that we pay into and which should be poised to help us cope during the hard times between jobs (and to prepare for retirement — a whole other can of worms) are not structured in such a way as to provide the support we need. (The full study is available here).
The study didn’t look at people who self-identify as disabled as a distinct group for analytical purposes, but it is interesting to note that people in precarious work situations “Fear that raising an issue of employment rights at work might negatively affect future employment” (pp. 37 and 47) — a common theme for people with disabilities, and therefore a double whammy for disabled people in precarious work situations.
I would like to explore in more detail exactly how EI and sick leave work for people in my situation. From what I’ve seen so far, both are currently structured to deal with long-term and/or permanent disabilities. People who can work only part-time and/or get sick for weeks, but not multiple months, at a time, fall through the cracks (i.e. get no support during these periods). The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is there as a last resort for people completely unable to work because of disabilities, but it provides no support for people with intermittent disabilities, either. In fact, its requirement that recipients own no more than $5,000 in savings (i.e. one Remicade reimbursement mistake!) is a huge disincentive for someone like me to apply, even though I may earn less working on my own than than I would receive on ODSP. I realize that the system is set up the way it is to avoid abuse, but the prospect of working like a dog until my savings are all gone and then going on ODSP is not exactly appealing, either. . .
There really should be a reform of the sick leave system, EI system and ODSP system so that people who have intermittent disabilities but who want to work part time/when they are well will have the support they need to continue to earn their own income. Right now, the system is not flexible enough to take intermittent disabilities into account.