05/18/2014 11:33 EDT | Updated 07/18/2014 05:59 EDT

We Don't Just Need More Jobs, We Need Humane Jobs


Sound bites about jobs abound. But given the significance of work, we deserve more than slogans. Work affects our income, health, identities, time and our relationships with other people and with the natural world. Jobs also reflect our priorities, and the kind of society we have -- and want to have. So it's crucial to engage in more thoughtful conversations about the present and future of work.

First, if, as some politicians claim, tax cuts equaled jobs, there would be full employment in Canada. Canada has the lowest corporate tax rates among G8 countries. In fact, Canadian corporations are paying 20 per cent less in taxes than they did in 2000. The aggressive tax-cutting agenda has certainly helped a few wealthy investors, but far too many Canadians are still unemployed (never mind the higher user fees and public service cuts that result).

At the same time, some people may be able to find "a job" but is the pay enough to even cover basic expenses? Are the hours sufficient? Are they consistent? Or is it not only impossible to schedule the essentials of life, but to pay for them?

Above and beyond these important, tangible dimensions, do people enjoy their jobs, feel respected at work, and proud of what they do? We start by dreaming of the careers we want to pursue, the things we want to make, and the lives we want to change. Yet some say we must lower our standards and accept less to get ahead. The opposite is true.

The world's happiest countries are also economically successful. People in these nations prioritize social solidarity and reject those who put profit and greed ahead of everything and everyone. These countries invest heavily in education, health and welfare and environmental protections. And in doing so, they create good jobs. Work that is about helping, rather than harming; jobs that buoy people not only economically, but emotionally.

The defeatists and apologists will call such aspirations impossible or delusional. But major social shifts have occurred because people rejected claims of impossibility and inevitability, and understood that the first step in making change is imagining better. We can have a society which recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental well-being, as well as the power of kindness, fairness and sustainability. Central to such a society are better jobs. Better jobs which are open and appealing to women and men, to younger as well as older workers, to new Canadians and to First Nations people.

We can start by sustaining the existing good jobs which provide people with a decent quality of life and the income levels that allow them to support local businesses, community groups and our tax base. Not all lousy jobs can be eliminated, but we can support efforts to improve them through better working conditions and public policy which guarantees everyone basic benefits like paid sick days and vacation. We can take seriously the mountain of evidence about the potential of green jobs. We can also imagine and create new work, including what I call humane jobs -- jobs which are good for people and for animals.

We are at a crossroads. We can sit back and let some drive us to a pit of pollution, cruelty and poverty. Or we can chart a path to a place of collaboration, compassion and dignity. This will take work and political will. And we all have a role to play, as do our political leaders. Enough with the rhetoric and disproven policies -- we deserve proactive, positive vision. We don't just want jobs. We need good, green, and humane jobs.


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