For generations, parents have held dear the expectation that their hard work would deliver a brighter future and improved fortunes for their children and their grandchildren. However, today’s youth are predicted to become the first generation in history to face a lower standard of living than their parent’s generation.
For the better part of the last century, high school students could expect to graduate into well-paid jobs in manufacturing or other sectors that allowed them to buy a home and support a family. Their counterparts today are graduating from college or university with mortgage-sized debts only to wind up stagnating in low-paying and precarious jobs that offer little room for advancement.
At the root of this reversal of fortunes are current labour market trends that are creating greater income inequality, undermining job security, driving wages down and quashing the hopes and aspirations of young workers. But the good news is that these trends are not natural or inevitable and that means they can be changed. Working together, community groups and labour unions are calling on politicians at every level to adopt a new vision for economic growth that puts the creation of good jobs at the centre of a long-range plan to lift every Ontarian.
Doing so requires us to strengthen public policy to prevent the encroachment of a low-wage agenda. There are three important steps we can take.
First, we need to increase the minimum wage to raise the bar for everyone. The minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 per hour since 2010, driving minimum wage earners 19 percent below the poverty line. An immediate increase to $14 per hour with annual adjustments for increases in the cost of living is needed to bring a single minimum wage earner working a 35 hour week to 10 percent above the poverty line. With a greater number of people earning the minimum wage than ever before, this will elevate wages from the bottom up and enable working people to spend more money in their communities.
Second, we must enhance protections for migrant workers. Ontario’s immigration landscape has changed drastically in recent years and the number of migrant workers has surpassed the number of economic immigrants arriving in Ontario each year. In 2012, 49,186 economic immigrants were granted permanent residency, while 71,233 migrant workers entered the province. For many reasons, including language barriers, work permits tied to one employer, fear of reprisal and being sent home and barriers from accessing supports and government services this growing temporary workforce is vulnerable to exploitation. This labour market shift towards a permanent temporary workforce has been driven by employers eager to spend less on wages, training and benefits. Whether you know it or not, this reliance on migrant labour over permanent residency, citizenship and good jobs is driving down wages and working conditions in nearly every sector. Ontario needs a Migrant Workers’ Bill of Rights to ensure fairness and the protection of all workers in Ontario.
Third, we have to bolster workers’ rights and enhance their ability to join a union. Current efforts to limit union representation are motivated by a corporate desire to silence the collective voice of workers and erode employment standards, wages and benefits. In workplaces across Ontario, unions provide a counter-balance to the unchecked power of corporations while, in communities, they defend the public interest by promoting public pensions, equal pay for women and support for unemployed workers. Simply put, unions are a vehicle for collective action and creating the good jobs that built today’s middle class and will support tomorrow’s families.
As Canadians celebrate the end of summer over the Labour Day weekend, it is an important opportunity to reflect on the kind of economic future we want for ourselves and for the next generation. It is time that we demand that people are put at the centre of Ontario’s growth.