Young workers are facing challenges in the workplace that need to be better recognized. The labour market has been especially challenging over the last few years. Young workers, which PSAC’s constitution defines as those under 35, are facing unique obstacles.
Governments and other employers speak of a “labour shortage” but the reality is that young people deserve stable, long term, jobs. They aren’t able to find those jobs because employers won’t consider solutions that would provide long term well-paid employment.
It’s a struggle that we need to act on as a union as well. In some parts of the country finding a stable job shortly after high school was once considered the norm. Now, in those same places, finding even a semi-stable job often requires more than a university degree. Young people must also have several years of unrealistic direct job experience they magically aquired during their degree.
Wages have not kept pace with inflation. In the North, where the basic cost of living is far above the rest of the country, this is especially true. Work-life balance for a lot of young workers here really means wanting the ability to have any life outside of work. For too many of those workers the idea of saving any of their money for the future is a distant dream, or even something they’ve given up on completely. ‘Work-life balance’ can mean being able to pay off basic expenses for them.
Employers often put short-term productivity over sustainability and the well-being of their employees. Employers are then surprised when young people don’t want to fulfill the responsibilities of a full time job on an unstable basis. But why would they want that responsibility without the stability, benefits, or pay that should come with it? And why would they feel any loyalty to an employer that doesn’t value them?
Communities also suffer because of this. Employers’ obsession with short term productivity over long term solutions hurts us all. Overworked employees can’t provide the quality work and care they could with proper benefits and stability. Staffing shortages occur because workers then leave key positions. New workers are reluctant to fill staffing roles because of poor working conditions.
If a worker is starting out in their field then they are likely to have to face a lot of employment insecurity. That’s especially true in all three territories. Unstable working conditions also force them to switch from job to job. This denies workers the chance to gain the long term experience that employers claim to want.
We can see all the factors above happening in real time in the North.
At the time of my writing this PSAC-Nunavut Employees Union employees at the Iqaluit Housing Authority have been on strike for over 129 days. Many of them are young Inuit parents who only want to receive a basic level of respect from their employer. The IHA, instead of making a fair offer, has brought in scab labour. Scab labourers are even given benefits IHA workers have never had access to.
PSAC workers at the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority (HRHSSA) have given their union local a strike mandate. HRHSSA workers provide care during hard conditions at the best of times – but the last few years have done the same during fires, floods, and pandemic. In exchange, they get inadequate time to rest between shifts and are often exhausted from overwork. They also have to deal with frequent staffing shortages. Meanwhile, HRHSSA’s failure to provide fair wages and working conditions is forcing workers to leave and keeping new workers away. This has only weakened the quality of health care in the community.
My recent trip to visit with our union colleagues in the Yukon reinforced for me that we must find solutions. In the Yukon, as across the North, a lot of young workers consider owning their own house completely out of reach. The housing market is making investing in property less and less accessible while the cost of renting is sky high. These high rents also contribute to making saving for the future hard to do in any meaningful sense.
Young workers are the future, both of our communities and of our union. It’s more important than ever that we understand their struggles and the obstacles they face. We must stand in solidarity with them.
The “labour shortage” which employers talk about should be a wake up call that they need to change their approach towards workers. It should also be a call to us as union members and leaders to take action.