As we head into a new year we must collectively confront the challenges of runaway household debt and income inequality. We can do it by addressing an underlying cause of both. It is a challenge that confronts almost every family and every community in our province: the creation of good jobs.
A good, full-time job is hard to find. Especially troubling are the high number of people unemployed for long periods and youth unemployment rates of almost 14 per cent. An upturn in part-time jobs may look good at first glance, but it does not hide the fact that BC has 84,000 fewer full-time jobs than we did before the recession began. Part-time jobs are okay if you have a part-time mortgage, part-time grocery bills and part-time children. Most of us do not, and part-time jobs are not the ones we need to build strong families and communities.
Tax cuts and privatization have not created good, full-time jobs in BC. They also have not helped the BC economy bounce back from the recession, as other provinces have recovered faster and are creating more jobs than we are.
According to Statistics Canada, BC was the only province that saw its productivity decrease from 2003 and 2008. Investment also dried up, especially in machinery and equipment. These numbers matter. As a study for the BC Progress Board reported: “Labour productivity is not only an engine of economic growth, it’s also the main driver of living standards.”
There is no reason to believe that the HST, should it survive, will lead to significant job growth either. Given the current level of post-HST job creation, it will take more than a decade to get us back to the unemployment levels of 2007.
British Columbia desperately needs a new agenda that puts the creation of good jobs first and foremost. The provincial government can begin by addressing its own prediction that BC will face a shortage of 160,000 skilled workers in five years.
Too many employers have ignored their obligation to train workers. The answer does not lie in poaching skilled workers from other countries. A first step is rebuilding the apprenticeship system in our province.
The province also needs to rebuild its wood-products manufacturing base, which was the backbone of this province for more than a century. The government has watched logs, jobs and entire mills shipped overseas. It needs to invest and restore the industry while there is still something left.
A jobs agenda for the province must also include the creation of good, green jobs as we make our economy more environmentally sustainable.
Rebuilding BC’s physical infrastructure is long overdue and can create good green jobs. This requires the province develop a comprehensive, coordinated, green industrial strategy with a focus on construction and retrofitting, green manufacturing, waste management and transportation.
Public sector jobs, in healthcare or the civil service for example, are inherently green. They also provide important public services in tough economic times like these and are part of the human infrastructure we need to have an economy that can compete globally.
Our public assets and public sector workers make an invaluable contribution to our individual and collective health and prosperity. We need to invest in these assets and jobs not eliminate or privatize them.
Jim Sinclair is president of the BC Federation of Labour.