Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Niki Ashton Profile
View Niki Ashton Profile
2019-06-12 18:03 [p.29023]
Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss the matter of the motion on a federal trades strategy, Motion No. 227, put forward by my colleague from Niagara Centre. This motion proposes a study of the creation of a strategy that would consider labour shortages in the skilled trades as well as the impact these shortages could have on major projects across the country.
We in the NDP welcome initiatives to gather more information and data on labour issues and shortages, and we will support this motion, but reluctantly, because this motion's stance is nowhere near what we need to tackle the problems Canadian trades workers and Canadian workers are facing.
First, this motion is missing a key fact, which is that rampant labour shortages in the skilled trades industries are not happening all across our country. There are labour shortages in some regions, and they need to be documented, but the context of these shortages needs to be appropriately discussed. While there are shortages in specific sectors and regions, it is not an industry-wide phenomenon across the country.
Focusing on the overall unemployment rate or job growth data is not acceptable when this data does not include important facts, such as the unemployment rate being higher among both youth and older workers, for example. We know that 10% of young people in Canada are unemployed, as opposed to 5% of the overall population.
It is also important to consider the perspectives of all parties in the study my colleague is putting forward. Any study on labour shortages must include vigorous consultation with unions and labour representatives, including rank and file labour activists, to understand the unique issues facing different industries, because it would be an uneven perspective otherwise. If one asks workers, they will say that despite labour shortages, wages are not increasing, which should clue the government in to the fact that the issue is not simply one of shortages across the country.
It is still taking Canadians just as long to find jobs as it did during the great recession of 2008. The average duration of unemployment during the great recession was 21 weeks, while the average duration of unemployment in 2008 was 15 weeks. In 2018, the average duration of unemployment was 19 weeks. It is taking workers four weeks longer to find work now than it did 10 years ago.
The CFIB put out a business barometer that found that nearly 47% of small and mid-sized businesses are being held back by a lack of skilled labour in several provinces. We know that in British Columbia, for example, multiple large-scale construction projects that are under way are facing a serious labour shortage. Provinces such as Ontario expect a shortage of 100,000 skilled workers within the next 15 years. Considering that unemployment is at a 43-year low, it is concerning that Canadian businesses are saying that they struggle to fill job vacancies, while at the same time, we know that Canadians are struggling to find employment. This kind of situation cannot stand.
What is the context for these labour shortages? FTQ Construction, the largest construction union in Quebec, told us about how industry workers are faring. Despite the labour shortages announced in the sector, the average construction worker in Quebec makes $38,853 per year. This compares rather poorly to the Quebec median income of $59,822. Moreover, 43% of construction workers make less than $29,999 per year, which is the living wage in Quebec for an adult with a child. FTQ Construction is right to affirm that “we will continue to say that there is no labour shortage so long as there are families who cannot make ends meet because they are not working enough hours”.
Basing the motion on broad labour shortages is simply not sufficient. If the government has not identified the problem correctly, it is not going to be able to find the proper solutions, no matter how hard it looks into labour shortages. There are solutions, but this pointless motion from the Liberals will not lead us to any of them. If we follow their lead on this, we will just be running in circles, and working-class families will continue to suffer from government inaction.
We must stand up for workers and their families. This motion will do nothing to help them, and it will not help anybody looking for a job to find one. Workers deserve a government that shares their concerns and takes wage stagnation seriously.
A recent OECD report found that 13.5% of jobs in Canada were at risk of automation and that 28.6% were at risk of significant changes due to increased automation in industries. Overall, more than 40% of the Canadian workforce is at risk of being replaced by automation in the next two decades.
Automation is a threat to the jobs of many workers and insisting that job shortages are a problem, while being unwilling to recognize the effect automation will have on employment, shows that the government does not get it and does not care about the workers who are most at risk of unemployment. Increasing access to both post-secondary education and jobs training will lessen the impending problems automation will pose in the future.
The NDP has solutions for helping workers. Canada's rural regions need help attracting labour, and that is why we are proposing to offer a tax credit directly to people who agree to move to our country's rural areas and stay there long-term.
We want to foster worker retention by offering a helping hand directly to workers. That is the kind of action that is needed to solve the problem.
We must also focus on finding legitimate answers as to why there may be shortages in the skilled trades. While it may be easy for Liberals to assume labour shortages are due to a lack of skilled workers, more research and data are necessary to reach conclusions on industries that have low job security. However, we will not find the solutions we need by proposing a motion where the premise of the study is that the only challenge the trades industry is facing is job shortages. The solution for labour shortages is to provide incentives that work for workers, not just for employers.
Furthermore, the topic of labour shortages is already under study in the human resources committee as of May 2019. This motion in front of us just shows that the Liberals are so dedicated to avoiding the real problems Canadians are facing that they would rather sponsor repetitive motions that will burden the HUMA committee and fail to help workers, than actually doing anything. Working-class Canadians deserve a government that is focused on supporting them with better education and living wages, not one that is just listening to employers by proposing motions under the incorrect assumption that the only obstacle the trades industry is facing is a country-wide labour shortage. This is simply not true.
It is not that a study to gather more information on the trades industry is a bad idea. It is just that this motion would not do anything worthwhile to solve the actual issues that are driving the labour shortage in the first place. Studying what should be a potential federal trades strategy should be seen as a good opportunity to help workers and promote investment in skills training. Any study that does not involve considerations of child care and access to education and training is not a study that would completely look at this issue.
Finally, this motion should prioritize workers' needs such as the right to make a decent living with a decent wage. Instead, it is just another meaningless gesture from the current Liberal government to feign its concern for the working-class people of Canada. The NDP believes that more can be done and we are proud to be on the side of working people in the fight against labour shortages and the fight for a decent living for working people.
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