"Currently 16,000 members of my own union who are instructors, librarians and other professional staff in community colleges in the province of Ontario have been on strike for the past 3 weeks on this very issue. Over 60 per cent of the faculty are on short-term contracts, usually 4 months long. They are seeking creation of more permanent positions and equality of wages for contract staff." — Cliff Andstein, NUPGE delegate to PSI World Congress
Geneva, Switzerland (01 Nov. 2017) — Creating stable, full-time, permanent jobs has been a focus for the National Union of Public and General Employees for decades. Fighting for good jobs with a living wage is more important than ever as we see young people being forced into low-wage, unstable, part-time and casual positions. Mainstream media, employers and even governments try to tell the public that precarious work is what suits the lifestyle of young people best. But we know from our own research that young workers want the same things older workers want. They want to own a house, find full-time, meaningful work at a liveable wage, raise a family and lower debtloads.
Over a third of Canadian workers in unstable or precarious work
In Canada, precarious work has become so prevalent it is being identified as a “new form of employment” in our labour market. A recent study by Statistics Canada found that over one third of the workforce was in unstable or precarious work situations. And, while women, minorities, migrants, Indigenious people, older workers, people with disabilities and young workers are disproportionately affected, the practice is spreading into all sectors.
But knowing that this issue isn't faced just by workers in Canada, it's a practice across the world, NUPGE wanted to ensure it was part of the action plan coming out of the Public Service International (PSI) World Congress.
Cliff Andstein, a long-time labour activist and NUPGE delegate, made a striking speech providing examples as to how precarious work touches so many industries and workplaces.
"Currently 16,000 members of my own union who are instructors, librarians and other professional staff in community colleges in the province of Ontario have been on strike for the past 3 weeks on this very issue. Over 60 per cent of the faculty are on short-term contracts, usually 4 months long. They are seeking creation of more permanent positions and equality of wages for contract staff," said Andstein.
"This problem continues year after year, creating incredible stress on our members and their families. It is an issue affecting most academic institutions in Canada and negatively affects the quality of education," Andstein stated. "Therefore, this is an important strike which could set a precedent across the country."
Labour movement working on strategies to protect vulnerable workers
Every union in Canada is struggling with the growth of precarious work and is engaged in ways to deal with the issue. Andstein shared with the PSI delegates that NUPGE has undertaken research about the impact of precarious work on young working women and men that will form the basis of a broad-based campaign and bargaining strategies to address the issue.
"We continue to press governments to change labour laws to allow greater access to union membership and collective bargaining for workers in this type of employment," said Andstein. "This is an important issue for all unions around the globe and it needs to be addressed internationally. As panelists said earlier this morning, we need to learn from our past, both our victories and our defeats. And we need to adopt new strategies and tactics."
Andstein concluded, "With the support of the PSI and each other we can make a difference by campaigning for good, permanent, full time jobs, improved labour laws and access to collective bargaining."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE