Written for Carol Hughes, MP
Young Canadians today are on a razor’s edge when it comes to employment. They are often forced into precarious work and are more likely to take unpaid internships and part-time, casual, or temporary work. Just under half of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 29 are forced to accept this kind of work, meaning unstable, part-time, and low-paying jobs. This is because employers are increasingly relying on short-term contracts instead of investing in employees who stand a better chance of becoming loyal, which would foster healthy worker-employer relationships.
Recently, New Democrats launched a national consultation on how precarious work affects the millennial generation. The gap between the rich and poor in Canada is growing and an unstable workforce only makes matters worse. Clearly it’s time to take action to close the inequality gap, bring about change and create acceptable living standards as well as more predictable incomes.
To many, the idea of having a permanent and unionized job with benefits and job security is not only highly improbable, but impossible to consider. In addition to millennials, precarious employment rates are higher among marginalized groups such as women, racial minorities, new immigrants, indigenous peoples, and those with disabilities. For some, freelance and independent work is the answer, but that offers no security, pension, or benefits. It also means having to find your own contracts and doing all of your own accounting and as tough as that may sound, not everyone has even that opportunity.
All of this only adds to the stresses young people face as they struggle to plan for their futures. They are unable to pay off student debt, pay the rent or even buy groceries, let alone buy a house or start a family. Tuition fees have risen 10% a year for the last sixteen years—yes, that’s 160% since 2000—increasing the burden of student debt which forces recent graduates to accept less stable jobs with lower incomes than they aimed for.
It’s not just about the money, many of the mental-health challenges that young people are facing stem directly from precarious work. Due to lack of experience, training, or knowledge about workers’ rights, this type of work is more likely to involve health and safety risks. Many young workers fear that raising an employment rights issue may end in job termination. High stress levels also have physical consequences such as increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke. Think about this: How can you pay for treatment and medication without benefits, health insurance, or enough money? That’s what these workers face all the time.
New Democrats understand that precarious workers are becoming the backbone of our economy. That’s not OK. We need a better deal for today’s work force. To do this we need the government to commit to strengthening and enforcing labour laws to prevent the misuse of unpaid internships, fix Employment Insurance so workers can count on getting the benefits they need, take practical steps to address the lack of health and dental coverage for those without workplace benefits… the list can go on. A lot of people in Canada want to bring fairness back, with these ideas we have a fighting chance.