September 24, 2013

Youth Forum to tackle issue of underemployment

50 000 march in Montreal to say "no to the pillage of EI"!
Peter Miller,
Rebel Youth Magazine

Finding a stable job after graduation from high school, college, or university is becoming increasingly difficult. About two thirds of new jobs are precarious that offer low pay, and part-time work. Meanwhile, many youth are unemployed.

In April 2013, youth unemployment in Ontario was sitting at 17.1 percent, compared to 6.1 percent for those 25 and over. The real percentage of unemployed workers however, is even higher, because unemployment figures do not count part-time and precarious workers looking for full-time jobs, or discouraged unemployed workers who have stopped looking for work. A figure of the amount of unemployed workers in Canada that corresponds more to reality is 12 percent.

In this context, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), along with the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario (CFS-O), Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Ontario, Unifor, United Food and Commercial Workers, Canadian Labour Congress, and Workers United Canada are organizing the Youth Un(der)employment Forum this Friday, September 27 at Ryerson University.

According to the OFL website the Forum “will aim to discuss and put forward concrete solutions to the problem of youth un(der)employment and explore how governments, employers, the labour movement, and other actors can do more to address this challenge.”

In July, Jason Kenney, the Minister of Employment and Social Development for the Canadian Government tweeted “I will work hard to end the paradox of too many people without jobs in an economy that has too many jobs without people.” But for Jim Stanford, an economist for the labour union, Unifor, the problem is not a skills shortage but the fact there is not enough jobs.

Stanford highlights in his recent article that “employment in Canada has recouped less than one-quarter of the ground it lost during the 2008-09 recession, and progress has been stalled since January, 2011.” He also highlights that the amount of unfilled jobs in Canada has fallen, not grown, over recent years. Meanwhile, there are over 6 unemployed workers in Canada for each job vacancy, and highly skilled Canadians are facing underemployment. Stanford further debunks the myth that there is a “skills shortage” when he notifies readers that “more Canadian workers have postsecondary training than any other country.”

Along with a high unemployment rate, the federal government has been cutting Employment Insurance. Because of cuts, less than 4 in 10 unemployed workers qualify for EI. Workers on EI are also being forced to find jobs that pay less than their previous jobs, and there have been cuts to providing EI for seasonal workers in Canada.

For Stanford, the Federal Government is trying to lower expectations for stable jobs from Canadians, and while lowering expectations, create a flexible, easily controlled workforce, instead of increasing job creation and putting Canadians to work.

Alastair Woods, is the Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario (CFS-O). As an organization that represents students and student unions across Ontario, the CFS-O has worked over the summer on the issue of unpaid internships. According to Woods, unpaid internships are particularly a problem in academic settings where there are work placements, co-ops, and corporations that seek to profit from the unpaid work of students at public universities.

“Unpaid internships are a result of employers shifting their costs onto colleges and universities” and cutting on the job training, he said.

Unemployment and underemployment is also a result of government “dancing to the tune of employers and private interests,” according to Woods. “Government has done absolutely nothing to stem the tide of employment becoming part–time and precarious,” he said. As well, high unemployment and underemployment is not by chance but a reflection of negligence from the government. 

For instance, governmental policies “allow employers to not give benefits to employees who work under a number of hours,” Woods said.  Retail outlets and the fast-food industry often hire part-time workers to cut labour costs and not pay benefits for workers.

Underemployment and unemployment is a result of “bad public policy, and private interests cutting their own costs,” he said.

Woods is hopeful about the Un(der)employment Forum this week.  The forum will be a chance to start a conversation looking at why there is so much underemployment, and also a chance to discuss actions that can be taken to force employers and the government to succumb to workers demands. 

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