moved that Bill C-542, an act to establish a National Urban Workers Strategy, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport, in the great city of Toronto.
It used to be that we could leave school, university or high school or college, and get a job that paid a decent wage and we could consider raising a family, buying a home. We would also consider staying with that company for our entire working career and, at the end of it, have a pension that we could count on, a pension that would keep us, in our seniors years, living in dignity. In fact, we could have a job that we could build a life on.
All that has changed. Today, more and more people are working freelance, are self-employed, are working multiple part-time jobs, are working on short-term contracts, are working through temp agencies, and some, I think too many, are working for free, as unpaid interns. These are what I refer to as “urban workers”. What do they all have in common? They cannot access a workplace pension; they have no extended health benefits; they have no job security.
Tonight, we begin the important work to fix that with this national urban workers strategy.
Our labour laws, our policies, are predicated upon a post-war work reality that no longer exists, or barely exists. We need to pull our labour policies and our labour laws into the 21st century. We need to reflect the reality of work today. We are doing that, tonight, with this national urban workers strategy. It marks the first time in Parliament that we debate, in a comprehensive way, measures that would help freelancers, the self-employed, people who are working multiple part-time jobs, people who are on contract.
It would be one thing if there were just a few workers like that in our economy, but that is not the case. It used to be the case. In fact, my own father worked as a self-employed person. I remember those days because in grade school, he was the only dad I knew who worked for himself. Everyone else had traditional jobs.
A couple of years ago, the United Way and McMaster University came out with a very important report, that showed that almost 50% of all workers in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area could not access stable, full-time employment. They could not find it. We have a more recent study, in fact, it was just last month, from the CIBC that showed that job quality in Canada was at an all-time low, and this particularly affects young workers.
This is the legacy and the record of the current Conservative government. It was the legacy and the record of the former Liberal government, as well.
Tonight, we enter a new chapter in the proud history of the NDP. The NDP has always stood with and for workers. We are the party that has fought to protect workplace pensions. We have fought to protect extended health benefits for workers in the workplace. We fought for occupational health and safety measures. We fought for the protection of job security.
Tonight, we are fighting for all those workers who cannot access a pension to begin with, all those workers who have no extended health benefits, all those workers in the economy who do not have any job security, who could wake up tomorrow and have no job. This bill marks a new chapter.
I would like to just say a word about why the word “urban” is in the bill. The word “urban” is in the bill because about 80% of Canadians live in urban areas and this issue of precarious work is manifesting itself in significant measures in the economy of our urban centres. That said, this bill would positively affect all precarious workers, whether they live in a big city, a small town or a rural municipality. These issues are universal.
People cannot access job stability. They do not have access to a pension. They do not have access to extended health benefits.
What are some of the measures in the bill? I would like to speak to some of the core measures. I would like to do that by first telling a personal anecdote.
I was working, as I have for about 25 years, as a freelance arts and culture worker in Toronto. Around 2008 we had a significant health crisis in my family, one in which both myself and my partner had to put all hands on deck in order to deal with the crisis. That took a good four or five months to deal with.
For people working freelance what generally happens is while they are working they are also working to find the next job too because they never know when that next job will come. In that space of time when we were dealing with a health crisis at home I was not working. After the crisis subsided and I went back to finding employment, it took some time to ramp up to stable employment again and we incurred significant debt. We were in debt for quite some time. It took several years to get ourselves out of that debt.
It made me realize just how precarious my work life was, that there was this razor thin line between stability and economic calamity. I started to look around and realized that it is not just people in the arts and culture sector, although most of those folks are working in precarious situations, but it is many people. It is taxi drivers, graphic designers, office cleaners, clerks, cashiers, personal support workers and micro entrepreneurs, people who are cobbling together a living doing a variety of things in our economy. None of them are able to access the kinds of income security measures and supports that buffer workers from the calamities of life, whether those are job loss due to a changing economy or family crises or health crises. These workers cannot take time off to tend to sick loved ones. They cannot access paternity and maternity leave. They cannot access compassionate leave.
At the end of one job and the beginning of another, there is often a gap and there is no way to bridge that gap. We have no policies in place to bridge that gap. Tonight, we begin to build those bridges with a national urban worker strategy.
The bill compels the federal government to do something that this government seems almost frightened to do, which is to sit down with other levels of government, like the provinces, municipalities, labour groups, employers and other relevant stakeholders and start to really get into the meat of this issue of how we support these workers. These workers pay taxes, raise families and contribute in significant ways to the cohesive social fabric of our cities and our communities right across the country and yet we have not addressed their concerns, until tonight.
Some of the measures in the bill that we are suggesting the federal government look at are issues around, for example, employment insurance. We need to fix our employment insurance system so it is there when workers need it and we need to find ways to expand that so it is available for all workers. It currently is not. In fact, in the city of Toronto, even if they pay into it, oftentimes there are only about 30% of workers who can actually access it.
We know that this federal government has raided the EI fund. The last Liberal government did the same thing. Neither government had its eyes set on the issues of precarious work and how we build a system that takes care of all workers and gives them those supports.
We need look at the tax system. It is incredibly complex for those who are self-employed, those who are freelance and on contract. It deals with significant issues which we can look at. As an example, when the GST was first implemented, people with incomes at $30,000 had to start collecting GST for the federal government. We need to look at measures that will make it easier for urban workers to build a business, to build their careers and not just foist people who try to cobble a living together into a situation where they act as free tax collectors, essentially, for the federal government.
We need to take a look at a living pension for Canadians. We need to do this and we can do this. The NDP has fought for this for years. We need to expand the breadth and scope of the Canada pension plan.
We need to address the issues of the exploitation of workers and unpaid interns. We need to tighten our labour laws. We need to sit down with the provinces to talk about some of these issues. We have heard the debate around the issue of unpaid interns, young people working in situations where they have no rights or protection. This is outrageous. We should all think this is outrageous, that we are putting our young people into positions where they do not get paid for the work they do and they do not get the same workplace protection regimes that other workers have.
On top of that, we also need to acknowledge some of the very large issues that will significantly help urban workers, such as affordable child care. This is a major offer by the NDP to finally put in place affordable child care right across the country. We will not just promise it and then pretend we never said anything about it. We will promise it and we will deliver it.
Trying to find measures that are going to support urban workers is also another reason why a $15 an hour minimum wage is important because that provides an upward pressure on wages and it will help all precarious workers negotiate better wages for themselves. We have to look at any measure that will help both large and small urban workers.
I want to acknowledge the many people who have helped get this bill from the streets of Toronto to the floor of the House of Commons, people who prior to this felt that nobody was really taking on their issues and concerns. I am extremely proud to be part of a caucus that understands we have to move the marker for all workers in the country. The current government has left too many people at the side of the road in its rampant march for tax cuts for its wealthy friends at the expense of hard-working people and hard-working families across the country.
More and more people are working this way and this debate is an incredibly important one for Canadians who deal with this issue. Whether people watching this are precarious workers or not, everybody knows someone who is. Everyone has relatives or know teachers who cannot get a full-time, teaching gig. The bill is for them. The bill will help move Canada forward in a more equitable and fair way for all workers. I am very proud to stand here on behalf of all of those workers to present the bill. I look forward to the debate to come.