New Canadian immigrants face less than ideal working conditions

July 9, 2008 (Toronto, ON) – Recent immigrants not only have poorer job situations than Canadian-born workers, but immigrant men are also twice as likely to sustain workplace injuries that require medical care compared with men born in Canada.

The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has released two new studies comparing work conditions and injury rates between immigrants and workers born in Canada.

Immigrants with five or fewer years in Canada are more likely to have higher qualifications than their jobs require, to have physically demanding jobs, and to work fewer hours than they want to, says Dr. Peter Smith, a scientist at IWH and the lead researcher of both studies. New immigrants are also less likely to have supervisory responsibilities, to be unionized or to have access to employment benefits.

Results from this study were presented at Statistics Canada’s Socio-economic Conference in May. The findings were based on interviews with more than 76,000 workers, from four waves of Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID).

The second study, published this month in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at work-related injuries in immigrants. The researchers analyzed information from more than 97,000 workers who took part in the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2003 and 2005.

This study shows that new immigrant men report a high rate of medically-treated injuries due to work. One explanation might be that new immigrants have more severe work injuries, possibly because they work in more hazardous settings, suggest Smith and co-author Dr. Cameron Mustard, IWH president. More information on immigrants’ work hazards and injury risks is needed to confirm this explanation.

It is surprising that we know so little about this issue, given that immigrants will account for all labour force growth in Canada over the next five to six years, says Smith. Currently, provincial workers’ compensation agencies don’t collect information on the immigrant status of injured workers, and the surveys we looked at were not designed specifically to answer these questions.

Both IWH studies highlight work-related issues in immigrants that can also affect their health.

Being overqualified for your job, for instance, is associated with declines in health, notes Smith. Limited access to non-wage employment benefits, such as disability insurance, may result in financial insecurity if a person is unable to work.

The research also shows that conditions may be worse for certain types of immigrants – and may linger for years. Immigrants who are visible minorities, whose mother tongue is not English, or whose highest degree is from outside Canada are more likely to be overqualified, to lack supervisory responsibilities and to be underemployed. Up to 20 years later, immigrants are still less likely to receive non-wage benefits or be unionized.

These two studies were funded by the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board’s Research Advisory Council.

To answer some of the questions raised by these findings, Smith and IWH Research Analyst Cynthia Chen are involved in a new study that tracks 7,000 immigrant workers over four years. Associate Scientist Dr. Agnieszka Kosny is also heading a new study involving interviews with injured immigrant workers and service providers.

Immigrant workers: the first five years

Compared to Canadian-born workers, immigrants in the first five years are:

  • 30 per cent less likely to work full-time
  • 65 per cent less likely to have employment benefits
  • 40 per cent more likely to be overqualified for their jobs
  • more than twice as likely to be working part-time, but wanting to work full-time

Immigrant men are twice as likely to have work-related injuries requiring medical care compared with Canadian-born men.

An immigrant who has a degree from outside Canada is more than twice as likely to:

  • work in physically demanding jobs
  • work in an unskilled job
  • be overqualified

Immigrants with degrees from Canada had no higher risk.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives.

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