by Terrance Hunsley
Future of Work Policies for the 2020’s, recently published by the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, takes on the thorny issue of the increasing precarity of the bottom half of the labour force. Their wages have been slowly eroding over the years. Their household incomes have increased only with two or more earners putting in more total work hours.
The deterioration in wages and working conditions began forty years ago when unionization was stopped in its tracks. Offshoring of jobs, fragmentation of domestic jobs, “liberalization” of labour market legislation, and letting minimum wages deteriorate with inflation, all supported the development of a large low-wage work force. Canada’s low wage sector is about twice the proportional size than many European countries.
Moreover, the work of the future is likely to be even more individualized, fragmented, and contract-based (such as gig work).
The report refers us to a period about twenty years ago, when the federal, (and several provincial) governments, established “Sector Councils”. These councils were directed by industry representatives from each sector and focussed on helping the businesses in the sector to grow and flourish. Many of them were defunded by the Harper government, and either shut their doors, or evolved into specialized services marketed to the sector.
The recommendation is to reestablish sector councils, but this time, with equal representation of business and workers. The mandates would be broad and aimed at encouraging the growth and development of the sector. But they would include the responsibility to report regularly on working conditions and wages within the sector, and to recommend reference wage scales. Every worker in the sector would be given a free membership to receive their reports, and a chance to vote on worker representation.
The report can be accessed at http://www.thepearsoncentre.ca