Nine years and 15 jobs – the endless cycle of the gig economy is eating away at my confidence


This first-person article is written by Merina Shrestha, a gig economy worker trying to find a permanent job in Calgary. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.

The sky is still rose gold as I take the bus and then the train to downtown Calgary—a new job, a new beginning.

But at the second stop, a familiar sign catches my eye. This is on the building where I worked my first job in an administrative position to get my foot in the door as a new immigrant to Canada.

It is also a dark reminder. There have been so many new beginnings that I sometimes feel like I’m going in circles.

This is my ninth year in Canada — my dream country — and my 15th consecutive job. I feel like I’m still struggling to put my best foot forward. With each contract that ends, my heart sinks, my confidence plummets and my anxiety grows. I was unprepared for the part of the labor market in Canada that relies on this precarious work or the gig economy.

When I first moved from Nepal to Canada, I knew I would have to start with a basic job and work hard to recover. Back home with a business degree, I served as an officer in an international non-profit organization. After arriving in Calgary, I worked in a few retail stores because I saw it as a valuable learning experience and a way to get started.

Merina Shrestha drives Calgary Transit to another job opportunity in Calgary. (Submitted by Merina Shrestha)

I took Canadian job skills training through a local nonprofit and got an unpaid internship at a local IT company with the promise of work experience. But at the end of my three-month contract, the firm simply told me that I had done a great job and said goodbye. My manager said there was no permanent role for me and she was sorry to let me go.

I was disappointed. A colleague told me they were on a hiring freeze, but was that just an excuse? In my heart, I felt that I must have done a good job, but not enough to get hired.

Still working part-time in retail, I knocked on several doors and landed a new assignment as an accounting assistant with a major oil and gas company. My excitement knew no bounds. My job was to help them transition to a new accounting system, a role I felt like I was quickly grasping.

But after six or seven months, the labor started to recede. As the oil and gas industry went through a downturn, I was released again with the promise that if they had work in the future, the company would contact me.

I must have done a good job, but not enough to get hired.-Merina Shrestha

Another great job, another reference – but I was starting from scratch. Setbacks and frustrations never end.

Sometimes I worry about not being able to find a permanent job because I am an immigrant. During several interviews, I was asked about my ability to speak English. Throughout school and work in Nepal, English was the medium of communication. I took it for granted that I communicated well. Suddenly, I doubt my ability to speak the language.

It has an impact on my family and my confidence.

For the first six years of our stay in Canada, my family lived in the basement of an old house in northwest Calgary. I felt helpless, watching my children stare at the ceiling, with no fresh air and little sunshine, until finally the stability my husband found in his career allowed us to qualify for a mortgage.

A recognition card crediting the author for helping the company with payroll coverage.
The praise comes back often, but it never seems enough to land that coveted permanent position, writes Merina Shrestha. The signatures and company name have been blurred on this recognition card for confidentiality reasons. (Merina Shrestha)

Thanks to my reputation and the good words of my supervisors, I never spent more than a month off work.

But sometimes I get exasperated. I came here in my mid thirties and am still struggling to hit my forties. I feel like I’m in an endless cycle of quality control in a warehouse.

I know I’m not the only one experiencing this. Almost two million Canadians worked in the gig economy in 2019, accepting short-term contracts or working shifts for platforms like Uber, according to Statistics Canada. Immigrants constitute an important part of these workers.

And beyond the gig economy, even more Canadians have “precarious” work – temporary, part-time or seasonal jobs, often paying minimum wage.

Every time a job ends, I try to remind myself that I’m still growing and learning to fit in here, so all is not lost. But at the same time, I wonder, how long can I deal with this uncertainty? Do I have the resilience and patience to keep going through these circles?

I wonder if doing more homework or having access to more training before immigration would have helped me integrate better, and if Canada and the organizations that use this temporary labor offer me enough support and security. Are we expendable individuals to let go on a whim?

For now, I take it one day at a time. If I’m working on a particular day, my family is settled, and our basic needs are met, that’s a good day.

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