The federal government should take meaningful steps toward crafting a national good jobs strategy, as more Canadians continue to give up on the country's labour market, according to Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).
There were fewer Canadians employed or looking for work in February 2012 (66.5 per cent of the working age population) than there has been since March 2002, according to Statistics Canada’s monthly report on jobs that revealed the national labour market participation rate dropped to its lowest level in a decade. This means more and more Canadians have given up looking for work.
This should send shockwaves through the halls of all federal and provincial governments, said Lewenza.
"We're in the midst of a full-blown jobs crisis in this country," he said. "The alarm has been ringing for years yet the Harper government just keeps hitting the snooze button."
It is dangerous for government and policy-makers to look too closely at the national unemployment rate as a measure of economic health as it fails to account for the quality of jobs on offer and totally ignores those workers who have given up the search, said Lewenza.
Structural changes in the labour market, including the loss of over half-a-million manufacturing and processing jobs, the rise of more precarious forms of employment (such as temporary and contract jobs) as well as the flat-lining of real wages has ruptured workplace standards and the quality of work, he said.
"Canada has no jobs plan. Our government seems blissfully ignorant of the plight of working people in the real economy."
The upcoming federal budget is a critical moment, said Lewenza.
"I want Jim Flaherty to announce in the budget that the government is organizing an urgent, multi-stakeholder, national good jobs summit," he said. "That summit should then translate into a national good jobs strategy. Anything less is a gross injustice to Canadian workers."
Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), is also calling on the federal government to use its upcoming budget to assist in creating good, family supporting jobs. The middle class is shrinking and the gap between Canada's highest and lowest income earners is growing, he said,
"Budgets are all about choices. It's time for the government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for the average Canadians. This government should be developing policies that ensure Canadians can afford their basic needs in tough times."
The CLC is calling upon Ottawa to invest, in partnership with the provinces and cities, in a major, multi-year program of infrastructure projects and public services.
"These investments can be paid for by reversing government tax giveaways to corporations," he said. "Finance department figures show that $1 billion invested in infrastructure creates more than five times as many jobs as the same amount spent on corporate tax cuts."
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