THE BLOG

Want to Solve Our Underemployment Problem? Talk About it

08/22/2014 12:04 EDT | Updated 10/22/2014 05:59 EDT
Alamy

Any leader will tell you, you can't be effective without knowing what people are concerned about at any given time -- the issues that come up with family and friends, their anxieties, their desires of today and their hopes for the future. As a national union leader, I spend a lot of time talking to people -- finding out about them and their lives.

What I can tell you is that increasingly, the people I meet -- both in the labour movement and outside (including in some business circles) -- talk about the need for greater dialogue on the issues of the day, particularly as they relate to jobs and the economy. People have expressed to me an urgent need to bring the best ideas together to come up with real solutions to us move out from under the dark shadow of long-term chronic underemployment. People are also expressing their frustration that we are being told that good jobs are a thing of the past. We know good jobs are possible. And people are telling me they want labour, business and government leadership to work together to ensure we all have access to good jobs.

There is a growing understanding that the economy is on the wrong track and won't improve without some effort. Take a look at the awareness around the plight of unpaid interns. The practice is now so rampant among employers, with students taking on one, two or more unpaid jobs, that legislators across the country have been forced to take action to combat the exploitation of young workers. With very weak legislation on the books, Ontario and Saskatchewan have had to crack down, with more to come. One current private members' bill in Ontario would require employers to account for their unpaid interns. Federally, the NDP has also tabled a private members' bill that would strengthen regulations protecting unpaid interns.

This week, I'm participating in the eclectic People's Social Forum in Ottawa -- a 10,000-person dialogue focusing on a range of issues from Aboriginal rights, current environmental challenges, international relations and crises, public services and how to create good jobs. Sharp economic concerns, including ever-worsening income inequality, dominate the agenda. The People's Social Forum, convened by a network of trade unions and community groups from across Canada and Quebec, is hosting the kind of discussion that is so desperately needed.

At #PSF14, Unifor is hosting a panel looking at the realities and challenges of today's job market -- the growth in precarious, part-time and temporary work and how to create real, meaningful employment opportunities, particularly for young workers. It's the first formal event kicking off our Good Jobs Summit, which will take place in Toronto October 3-5. And I'll be the oldest person on the stage, sharing the spotlight with three people -- two young workers from Unifor and Jessica McCormick, national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.

The Good Jobs Summit is an expression of Unifor extending its efforts beyond our membership to improve the lives of all working people across the country. It is a lofty goal, but fundamentally, it starts with creating good jobs that provide a decent standard of living, with safe working conditions, with dignity and respect.

Good jobs help the entire community, including local businesses, by putting money on the hands of ordinary people who spend their money on homes, cars, toys and sports equipment for their children. Good jobs mean families can provide for their families -- and they do that by patronizing local shops and services.

The Good Jobs Summit will bring together seemingly disparate parties -- industry, government, NGOS, students, academic institutions, workers and trade unions -- to discuss the need for decent jobs and come up with solutions. Up for discussion will be the chronic underemployment of young, overqualified workers; growing precarity in the labour market; how we can make 'bad jobs' better and where the good jobs will come from in the economy of today and in the future.

We are not interested in lamenting the sorry state of affairs -- we are ready to move towards real, lasting solutions. It's so much of a priority that Unifor is casting a big net and opening up the event to anyone who wants to attend. It's free and the discussion will be lively and anything but predictable.

I'm confident that we can do better, that we can create an economy that churns out far more good jobs than bad, that creates an environment where precarious employment is a thing of the past, and that everyone who is able to work can find a decent job that helps support themselves and their family.

I know we can do this, it starts with awareness and then we will move onto real solutions. On October 3-5 join me for the Good Jobs Summit in Toronto or tune in via the livestream or on Twitter.