Quotes from Work and Labour in Canada: Critical Issues


Author: Andrew Jackson – Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress.


Publisher: Canadian Scholars Press Inc., 2005




Preface – page xiii


It would seem to be obvious that wages and the quality of work are central aspects of the economic and social well-being of Canadians and should be at the centre of public debate on how our economy is performing, but it still seems to take constant efforts to push these issuer to the forefront and to bring them to the attention of policy-makers.


Introduction – page 1


….. key trends over the last 15 years. While Canada has done very well on some fronts and has a very high rate of employment, including in jobs requiring higher levels of education, other, more negative, trends are of concern. These include growing inequality in wages, job prospects and family incomes, and the growing problem of low wages and unstable or precarious work.


The job market is marked by deep inequalities and differences along lines of gender, race, ability, and age, all of which intersect with differences in wages and the quality of employment.



Chap. 1 – Why jobs are important.


Page 6: New immigrants are more highly educated than the Canadian–born, yet their earnings and job chances fall far short of equality.


Page 7: The kinds of jobs we hold and the wages we earn largely determine the kind of homes and neighbourhoods in which we live, the extent to which we can buy the goods and services we want, the extent to which we can provide our children with opportunities, and our ability to balance work with family and community life and opportunities for leisure.


Page 7/8: On the other hand, unemployment and bad jobs give rise to poverty and low income, stress, ill health, and alienation from the wider society in which we live.


Page 10: Many Canadians work in very low-wage jobs. These trends have increased income gaps between families, and kept poverty at high levels even in an economic recovery.


Page 11: Low unemployment is obviously a good thing, but a low unemployment rate can hide the fact that many people are working in low-wage jobs, or are working in temporary jobs, or are working in part time jobs even if they want to work-time.


Page 12: In Canada, deep recessions resulted in very high unemployment in both the early 1980’s and the early 1990’s. To some degree, these downturns are part of the normal workings of the business cycle. However, government economic policies have also contributed to periodic high unemployment and ongoing slack in the job market.


Most economists agree that there is a natural or non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment. The basic idea is that, if unemployment falls too low, below about 7% in the case of Canada, wages will increase too fast, driving up the rate of inflation. In both the early 1980’s and early 1990’s, the Bank of Canada raised interest rates very sharply to deliberately slow down the economy, fearing that inflation was rising or about to rise too fast because of low unemployment. Critics argue that central, banks move too fast, too soon, and that the deliberate use of unemployment to fight even low rates of inflation is very costly (Maclean and Osberg 1996).


At any given time, there are more workers looking for jobs than there are available jobs. This means that jobs are hard to find, particularly for workers whose skills and education are not in very high demand and for young people and new immigrants who lack Canadian job experience. When unemployment is high, many workers are under-employed – for example, working in part-time jobs or setting up their own small business when they really want full-time jobs. The degree of slack in the job market is a huge influence on employer investment in training for the unskilled, attention to the unrecognised skills and credentials of new immigrants, relative pay levels by skill, and employer willingness to balance demands of work and family.


Page 13 : One in five men and almost one in three women work in sales and service occupations – mainly lower-paid and often part-time jobs in stores, hotel, restaurants, and jobs as security guards, building cleaners, and so on.


Page 14: … about one in four full-time workers in Canada in the mid-1990 s was low-paid – defined as earning less than two-thirds of the average national wage – compared to just one in twenty in Sweden, and only one in eight in Germany and the Netherlands.


Chap 2. – Work, Wages, and the Living Standards of Canadian Working People.


Page 18: Canada has relatively few workers who are unemployed for very long stretches of time, but we have large numbers of workers who are regularly employed in a series of precarious jobs and survive on low annual earnings.


Page 20: Compared to some Western European countries, Canada has long had a job market in which many workers are employed in precarious jobs – that is, in jobs that are either insecure or low-paid.


Page 21: Most temporary workers would rather have permanent jobs. And a layer of self-employed workers – the so-called own-account self-employed who work by themselves and have no employees – tend to have very low annual earnings.


Page 29 / 30: Vancouver – by Jane Armstrong. ….new (2001) figures show that more than one third of the city’s newcomers are barely scraping by. Worse, the statistics show that the number of poor new immigrants is on the rise. More than37% of new immigrants in Vancouver are considered poor……….(reference) 200 Census. A decade earlier, less than 27 percent of new immigrants there were poor.

The low-income threshold for a family of four was pegged by Statistics Canada at $33,600. By contrast, the percentage of low-earning new immigrants in Toronto by the year 2000 was 32.8 percent, a 4.6-per-cent increase over from the previous decade.

I see them struggling, said Shashi Assanand, executive director of the Vancouver and Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services.

A sluggish economy and high housing costs in the Vancouver area could explain in part why new arrivals have a harder time getting ahead than elsewhere, she said.

Ms. Assanand also noted that many immigrants complain that educational credentials and expertise acquired in their countries of origin aren t recognized in Canada. As a result, doctors, engineers and other professionals can wind up as cabbies, janitors, and fast-food employees.

Lillian To, of the immigrant services group, SUCCESS, said new immigrants aren t to blame for their narrowed options. As a group, recent immigrants have higher education levels than those born outside Canada. And current professional and educational requirements for new immigrants have never been as strict as they are now. But if credentials from the old country are not always recognized, we’re wasting talent, Ms. To said.


Page 35: Some individuals and families fall well below the poverty line, and remain there for long [periods. This is certainly true of long-term welfare recipients, many of whom are outside the workforce for long periods of time because they have disabilities or are single parents with young children. Welfare rates in all provinces fall well below poverty lines, such that to be a person or household permanently without work almost certainly means living on a very low income.


Chap 3: Taking Lifelong Learning Seriously


Page 44: There are many reasons why Canada lacks a strong workplace training culture. Traditionally, high levels of immigration of skilled workers have kept down the need to train from within. High unemployment for much of the 1990 s meant that firms could easily hire from outside for needed skills, rather than train and promote from within.


Page 45: We may have the most highly-educated generation of young adults in the world, but many Canadians are seriously underemployed (Livingstone 2002, Lowe 2000). At least one in five jobs requires education and skills far below those of the workers who hold them. Underemployment in precarious jobs affects many young people as well as highly educated and highly skilled recent immigrants. There is evidence that skills gained in the educational system often atrophy and rot from lack of use in the workplace.



Page 46:In Canada, unionized workers enjoy greater access to employer-sponsored training because unions have pushed employers to take on the task of upgrading skills and providing current employees with better jobs, rather than just hiring from the outside to meet new needs (Sussman 2002).



Page 47:….about one-third of all adults engage regularly in self-directed, job-related training.


Page 48 : In summary, employer-provided training is highly concentrated on the higher layers of the shrinking core workforce in larger firms and the public sector.


Page 49:Twenty-eight percent of adults report that they want more job-related training, but face significant barriers in terms of either time and/or money (Peters 2004).



Page 49 / 50: The weaknesses of the employer-based adult training systems have not been adequately compensated for through public policy. Governments do provide some support to adult learning for a small proportion of unemployed, mainly funded from the Employment Insurance Act. The fact that eligibility is restricted to current or recent EI recipients, however, means that nay of the working poor, as well as recent immigrants, do not qualify.


Page 51: Conclusion. The importance of lifelong learning to better jobs and higher living standards has been widely recognized, but Canada falls well short of providing adequate access to training opportunities for both employed and unemployed workers.


Chap. 4: The Unhealthy Canadian Workplace.


Page 58: Most Canadians are familiar with the national unemployment rate, which is reported monthly and stood at just above 7% in 2003. Taken at face value, this number considerably understates the true extent of employment insecurity. To be counted as employed, one need only  have worked a few hours in a week, so employment includes temporary employees, part-time workers who want more hours, and people who are working in low-wage survival jobs while looking for regular jobs that match their skills. To be counted as unemployed, a person has to have been unable to find any work at all, and to have been actively seeking work even if he or she knew that no suitable jobs were available.


Page 59: Job insecurity in the precarious labour market is heightened by lack of supports and services to promote access to better employment. The dominant ethos is that heavy sticks are needed to drive the unemployed into available low-wage jobs; hence, our minimal and deeply punitive welfare system, which makes even minimum wages look attractive, and the recent cuts to the EI program in the form of higher qualifying hours requirements, which effectively cut off the precariously employed workers who need income support the most.


Page 65: More than one in four Canadian men and women – and 40% of people under 25 – feel overqualified for their current job according to a survey by Canadian Policy Research Networks. Employers routinely overlook the skills and credentials of new immigrants with the result that they are sidelined into low-paying, dead-end jobs.


Page 66: Unpaid overtime is increasingly required not just of managers and professionals, but also of public and social services workers attempting to cope with increased workloads. Self-employed workers also tend to work very long hours.


Page 66: There has been a strong trend towards long (and short) working hours for both men and women in the 1980s and 1990s at the expense of the 40-hour week norm. The proportion of men working more than 50 hours per week in their main job rose steadily from 15% in the early 180s to about 20% in 1994, and has continued at that level through 2000. Over the same period, the proportion of women working more than50 hours per week has risen from 5% to about 7%. About one in three men and one in eight women now work more than 40 hours per week.


Page 67: To summarize, there is a strong trend toward longer hours for core workers, as well as more unsocial hours and more variable hours. Vacation entitlements and phased-in retirement in Canada are quite limited compared to many European countries. These all have implications for stress and physical and mental health.


Chap 6: Minorities in the Workforce: Workers of Colour and Recent Immigrants, Aboriginal Canadians, and Persons with Disabilities.


Page 101/102 : While not explaining everything, discrimination is one of the factors at play. In her Royal Commission Equality Report, Judge Rosalie Abella stated that …discrimination, …..means practices or attitudes that have, whether by design or impact, the effect of limiting an individual or group s right to the opportunities generally available because of attributable rather than actual characteristics.  What is impeding the full development of potential is not the individual s capacity but an external barrier.


Page 102: Disadvantage in the job market also flows from the frequent but more subtle practice of giving preference in hiring and promotion to job applicants from the same gender, social background, and networks as the person doing the hiring. This is particularly the case in periods of high unemployment when many qualified applicants are available to fill vacant jobs.


Chap. 7: Older Workers, Pensions, and the Transition to Retirement.


Page 138: No matter how the age of retirement issue is resolved, there are groups of older workers who whose work situation should be a matter of public concern, such as the older unemployed and people who have faced discrimination in employment. The situation of older adult immigrants bears scrutiny given low earnings, and many older women still have very low retirement incomes. It is also important that the exit issue gets resolved in a manner that creates employment opportunities for older workers who want employment and, at the same time, does minimal damage to the employment prospects of younger workers.


Chap 11: Improving Work: Could Canada Look More Like Denmark?


Page 213:The experience of some European countries shows that low wages and precarious jobs are not a necessary condition for job creation, and that improving job quality at the bottom of the labour market does not inevitably come at the price of high unemployment. This is a significant conclusion, since Canadian policy makers major objection to labour marker regulation aimed at protecting workers in precarious employment has been that such policies will hurt those whom they are intended to protect.



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