The Canadian government, in the midst of massive cuts to federal programs and layoffs of the public service, is introducing changes to its Employment Insurance policies which would force those who are on EI to take jobs that they may otherwise refuse. The government is attempting to re-define the rights of workers on EI; the rights of the productive, middle-income earners who turn the national economy, freshly released from their secure, steady employment by the same government looking to make efficiencies. This basically means that the government has cut the economy off at its knees by taking employment away from the most consistent sources of consumer revenue; average Canadians.
Instead, these well-educated and experienced workers will be asked to fill regional labour gaps in jobs that they would refuse based on their high skill set, low wages or unacceptable working conditions. The Finance Minister has stated that a job is a job and that people should do what needs to be done, using his own example of driving cabs and refereeing hockey to get by in his youth.
While it's refreshing to see people acknowledge that all forms of employment are respectable, it glosses over the fact that it's not always acceptable. Young professionals who are not eligible for early retirement packages are being squeezed out of their positions so that the government can save millions on what it considers public service ineffiencies. Among these savings are pensions and benefits for workers, the kind of security that only the public service offers in exchange for office work.
The days of the plum jobs are gone, with no benefits or security to speak of. That much has been made clear through this round of cuts and with the general feeling around the world, with fragile economies and austerity measures. While this may be a simple fact of life, is it really a better option to force people into jobs that they don't want?
Forget the fact that these jobs are often sweaty, uncomfortable, physically taxing, exhausting and don't even begin to pay the bills. There's a reason they are hard to fill. Filling in labour gaps with forced employees is never a good business model. Production and morale levels will be low; logic states that return on investment will be low as a result. This measure will hurt instead of help the current labour market by filling it with bitter overqualified workers who can no longer afford their mortgages.
And let's not forget another essential point: forced labour is, by definition, slavery. Government-mandated participation in the labour market of its choice is coming pretty close to that mark.