Coalition pushes Ontario government to address youth unemployment

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Photo: philippe leroyer/flickr

A $14 minimum wage and an overhaul to Ontario's employment and labour laws are among the recommendations a coalition of young workers and organizations will present to the The Premier's Council on Youth Opportunities February 27.

In Ontario, where youth unemployment rates are twice as high as the overall provincial youth unemployment rate, the job situation of young people has become a priority issue for many labour and anti-poverty organizations.

The recommendations are included in the report, "Addressing Youth Unemployment and Underemployment," the result of six months of consultations after an Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) hosted forum on youth underemployment.

"There was a real appetite for putting together some concrete solutions," explained Brynne Sinclair-Waters, a researcher at the OFL. "I think young people feel that this is such an important issue it cant be overlooked and we need to keep pressing."

In total the report, which has contributors from various labour, youth and student organizations, makes over ten recommendations to improve the job situation for young people.

Their call for an increased minimum wage comes on the heels of several high profile protests by different youth and anti-poverty groups to raise the minimum wage to $14. While Ontario Liberal government has recently introduced a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $11 on June 1, the OFL and other groups who authored the report are calling for the $3 boost to better protect young workers, many of whom are in precarious job situations or are working part-time.

"They need jobs that pay them a decent wage to save for school," said Sinclair-Waters. "And to build a life they can be proud of."

Along with an increase to minimum wage, the report notes that substantial legislative changes would better protect young workers.

The Employment Standards Act is considered problematic because it puts the onus on workers to report violations, a difficult situation for workers who fear reprisal and may not have access to legal services.

Internships are another key area of the report. The proliferation of unpaid internships has become a hot topic for young workers and activists, who believe that employers have taken advantage of the designation to escape paying employees.

On February 26, a group of young people and organizations, including Students Against Unpaid Internships Scams -- one of groups that contributed to the report -- gathered outside St. Paul's Church in Toronto where Minister of Finance Charles Sousa was holding pre-budget consultations to demand that the government take action on unpaid internships.

"This is a priority that has been set by young people themselves, " said Sinclair-Waters. "They know that unpaid internships are unfair, and they are right. That's why we're hearing a lot about that issue." The report asks the government to address the unpaid internship issue by clarifying the regulations and laws that surround interns and by collecting data on their numbers.

With $35 billion earmarked for infrastructure projects in Ontario for the next three years, Sinclair-Waters expressed hope that job creation for youth could become a key benefit of that plan. It's why the OFL, along with their partners, will continue to put pressure on the Ontario government to improve the job situation for youths.

Photo: philippe leroyer/flickr

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