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Precarious work: walking the tightrope

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Dear friends:

These days, there are way too many bad jobs in Ontario.

There are jobs where the wages are low. There are jobs with no benefits. There are jobs where you can’t get enough hours to live. And there are jobs where you don’t know if you’ll be working tomorrow, or next month.

Lately, people are calling this “precarious” work. It’s a good term. Because for lots of Ontarians, going to work is like walking a tightrope. You’re trying to balance work with living, but one wrong step means a long drop.

If you fall, there’s not much of a safety net. In Ontario, the majority of unemployed workers don’t collect Employment Insurance benefits. With precarious jobs, they can’t: they don’t work enough hours, or weeks, to qualify. They’d all be homeless if they didn’t have friends or family.

Still, precarious workers keep trying: they upgrade their skills, or ride the bus between part-time jobs, or take temporary jobs in hopes of getting on full-time.

This is ridiculous. As I’ve said before, there is lots of money in this province. It’s just not going to working people.

Employers have the money to create great jobs for everybody. They just don’t want to. Because low wages, no benefits, and few hours for millions of people at the bottom of the economy mean champagne and caviar for the thousands at the top.

This has to change. The economy is supposed to be for everybody, not just the few.

Thankfully, working people are fighting back.

In OPSEU, we’re working hard to organize part-time college workers, pushing back on cuts to women’s wages, and fighting for safe workplaces. We’re calling on the government to raise overall employment standards and make it easier for workers to join unions.

In Toronto, the Urban Workers Project is advocating for workers in the new “gig economy.”

The Workers’ Action Centre is helping lead the “Fight for $15 and Fairness” campaign to demand that Ontario catch up to U.S. states like California and New York. In both states, the minimum wage is set to rise to $15 an hour over the next five years – and that’s U.S. dollars.

This didn’t just happen. It happened because people stepped up and took action.

As trade unionists, we need to remember that. And as community members, we need to stand with our fellow citizens – who are just as worried about the future of jobs as we are – to make jobs better for everybody.

Because work shouldn’t be a tightrope. It should be a bridge – to a better life.

In solidarity,

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

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