Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Research: Precarious employment and gender in Banff

One of the presentations from a Canadian Political Science Association conference panel I organized last week was entitled “Gender, Work and Community Sustainability: Young Adult Mobile Tourism Workers in Banff National Park, Canada ” by Dr. Angèle Smith from the University of Northern British Columbia. Angèle’s findings were interesting. 

First, she found that workers in Banff’s hospitality industry were highly precarious, often struggling to feed themselves and living in rather difficult conditions. One audience member used to work in Banff and talked about folks living 10 to an apartment and under staircases and fondly recalled the “Aussie who lived in a closet”! (Wow, audience participation!)

There is some recognition of the issues of precarity in official documents. What is interesting is that Angèle found significant gender differences by occupation among these workers, something that is entirely missing from the official discourse. As you’d expect, women tend to work in lower wage positions (food service, retail, house keeping) while men are more likely to work in higher wage positions (e.g., guiding, ski instructing).

Angèle also talks about the transitory nature of Banff’s community (long-term residents are few) and considers how the economic structure of the tourism industry is, perhaps, premised upon high turn over among the precariat. The costs of the service industry are externalized onto workers in the form of low wages, which the workers accept (for awhile) in order to live in Banff. When the seasonal bust happens, hours are cut and a certain segment of the service population moves on.

Overall, a very interesting paper and an afternoon well spent.

-- Bob Barnetson

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