Having good work and what it means to our community

My ideal community would be one where everyone who wanted a job had one, but not just any job. I would like to see everyone have a job with a future. What is a job with a future? A job with a future is one that allows you to develop your talents and skills. It would provide sufficient security to allow you to plan for your future. A good job enables you to afford decent housing and nutritious food for you and your family. It would provide enough flexibility to allow you to engage with friends and family, and to participate fully in community life. A job with a future is a job that leads to more and better work down the road. It would be a job that respected one of the core values stated by the International Labour Organization in 1944 and which Canada agreed to: LABOUR IS NOT A COMMODITY.

This is about much more than simply reducing the rate of unemployment. We are experiencing a major change in how people find work and keep work. The more we understand about this shift, the more we understand that there are bad jobs, jobs that can be worse for us than unemployment. A job with a future is about more than having a paycheque this week. More and more of us are being treated as a commodity, employed on short-term contracts or through temporary employment agencies. Fewer and fewer of us are in jobs that we expect to retire from with a pension, or that provide us with benefits during unexpected events like illness or disability. Fewer of us can bank on seniority providing us with job security. More of us are either in jobs that we know have no future, or in jobs that we are afraid could be taken from us by corporate reorganization or outsourcing of the work that we do. Increasingly we are “Working without Commitments.” Employers see us as short-term assets and we see employers as temporary providers of a job.

This shift in how labour markets operate is also changing the kind of society we live in. Those of us in jobs without a future are unlikely to get the kind of training at work that will make us more productive individuals in the future. As our attachment to any one workplace becomes increasingly temporary, our attachment to a community of co-workers also becomes weaker and we lose an important source of friendship and support. As we become less certain about future prospects, satisfying a child’s request for a new piece of sports equipment, or a new musical instrument or paying for a school trip becomes more of a concern. Losing control over one’s work schedule may also mean being unable to care for an ill family member when needed, attend an important event at your child’s school, coach a community sports team or to participate fully in a community project that would make life better for all.

Having jobs with a future opens the door to a very different kind of society, one where families thrive, where we are engaged in our communities and where the quality of life for all is enhanced. It is also probably a society where we are all more productive. Being economically competitive is important, even necessary in a world with falling international trade barriers. But we need to start thinking about the impact of how we are going about meeting this competition. If the cost is declining household wellbeing or reduced community participation, our current approach to meeting this challenge may not be sustainable in the long run. It is in our collective interest to figure out how to restore some stability to the job market, how to create more jobs that have a future, how to restore “Working with Commitments” into what we do for a living. We need to shift our focus and raise expectations about work. Simply providing people with a job is not enough. We need to be providing people with jobs with a future.

One thought on “Having good work and what it means to our community

  1. Awesome vision Dr. Lewchuk! I agree completely. I’ve had to choose between raising a family while being involved with the community over having a full-time, full-benefits, well-paid job. I’ve worked in contract positions over the past four years and these are my observations:

    1. The distribution of the payroll pie is inequitable: within any given business cycle, the resources in private and public organizations are fixed – the amount of money available to pay the total workforce is the sum total of the payroll pie. If a group of workers are over-paid, and they receive a larger-than-equitable fraction of the pie, the balance of the workforce must share the remnants. Therefore, in order to create Dr. Lewchuk’s ‘jobs with a future’, an over-haul of the income distribution system should be considered.

    2. Organizations must be allowed to maintain a workforce that is flexible so that they may position themselves to meet and compete in changing market conditions. The current system of Unions vs. Management is unsustainable. Although workers benefit from collective bargaining, the contracts reached must be flexible enough for organizations to remain internationally competitive.

    3. What is the alternative to flexible, lower paying contract or part-time work…high divorce rates resulting in single-parent families, the large number of children who suffer neglect (leading to other problems) due to over-worked parents. Looking around, the alternative is quite unpalatable…

    Dr. Lewchuk’s vision is definitely worth fighting for.

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