Province needs improved labour standards

Lana Payne
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

It's all the rage these days - the talk about family-friendly workplaces, recruitment and retention, the changing philosophy among younger workers from one of working to live rather than living to work.
You can't turn on a radio without hearing about the next job fair, skills shortages or what Tim Hortons is doing to attract employees. Slowly, but surely, the "lucky to have a job" motto that had been the foundation of our labour market is disappearing.
Employers are talking, some might even say strategizing, about how they might recruit more women, Aboriginals, newcomers and people with disabilities into the workplace.
Suddenly, the people no one wanted are being courted.
You'd think these market factors of supply and demand would also result in some sweeping changes in our workplaces, an institutional shift away from the ill-conceived notion that today's society still resembles 1950s Canada - where the man was the breadwinner and the woman was the caregiver.
That society has been the exception rather than the rule since the late 1970s, when women started joining the labour force in unprecedented numbers.

Enduring expectations
But for the most part, work - including the organization of it - and the expectations of many bosses have not changed much to accommodate this modern society.
Let's face it: Canada is not that family friendly, which means by and large that it is not that advanced when it comes to accommodating working mothers.
Not only are more and more women working, but they are working longer hours. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006 74 per cent of working women punched 30 hours or more a week.
Some 73 per cent of mothers worked in 2006, compared to just 39 per cent in 1976. And the vast majority of them, 68.5 per cent, worked between 30 and 40 hours a week.

Skills required
The economy has never needed women's skills more. The economy has never needed an early learning and child-care system more. But, for the most part, public policy has not kept pace with our changing society.
Public policy should be all about supporting the labour market and people so they can work or train. Yet the federal government is asleep at the switch - solving the problem with temporary foreign workers rather than through immigration, innovative labour market policy and solid social programming.
Some employers, those with the money and resources, may respond well to the changing times and develop human-resource policies that keep them competitive. In other words, they will figure out what they need to do to make their company a good place to work. Other employers will remain stuck in yesterdayland and wonder why their business is suffering or closing because they can't attract or keep workers.
Let's be clear. This is about money and making up for 25 years of stagnant wages.
But it is also about work/life balance. It's about understanding that an employee's life isn't just about the work they do. Employees are also parents, and volunteers. They are also children worried and caring for their aging parents.
So, you'd think with all these realities, including the tightening labour market, that the work/life balance would be getting better. Yet Canadians are not necessarily spending less time at work, even though, according to Statistics Canada, the average usual hours worked per week has declined from 38.6 hours in 1976 to 36.5 hours in 2006.
The average hours worked has decreased mostly because of the kinds of jobs being created. In other words, the creation of part-time employment has outpaced full-time job growth in the past 30 years.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, according to the March report by Statistics Canada's Perspectives, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are working the hardest.
More and more people in our province are working long hours, or more than 41 hours a week. This goes against the national trend, where there has been a drop in the percentage of people working long hours.
By 2006, Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest average usual hours worked, at 38.9 per week, compared to the national average of 36.5. In fact, we are working, on average, longer hours than Albertans. In 2006, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians punched more hours on average per job than anyone else in the country.
This certainly blows a few stereotypes out of the water, including the prime minister's infamous "culture of defeat" slur from a few years back.
But is working more what we want? Shouldn't having a better balance between work and family be our goal? In a time when recruitment and retention is not just a workplace goal, but a population strategy, our province needs to be thinking about how it can attract and keep its citizens.
Working more is not the answer to that.
Our province needs to have a look at its basic recruitment and retention guide, or the laws that set the floor for many of our workplaces. Our labour standards are woefully outdated and reflect a time when our province was marketed as a low-wage economy.

Improvements needed
If we want to be in the game of competing for workers and citizens, then we need to modernize those standards. We need to stand out from the crowd. What we currently have in no way includes anything resembling a family-friendly workplace policy.
We have the fewest statutory holidays in the country, the worst minimum vacation, no family leave or personal-time days and no sick leave.
On top of that, regulated child care is inadequate and unaffordable and our elder- and home-care system is a complete mess.
If we want people to work and live here, we have to start with paying better wages, but it can't stop there. We have to build a better society.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. She can be reached by e-mail at column returns May 11.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page