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When Did Having No Job Security Become a Virtue?

This was one of those weeks in which I was flooded with media interview inquiries.  They were all about the City of Toronto’s decision to contract out part of the City’s garbage collection. The City’s plan is to fire all of the non-pernament employees now, but not the permanent employees, because those employees have bargained contractual protections which forbid the employer from firing them and replacing them with cheaper, private sector workers.  Mayor Ford and his sidekicks are saying that they will try and bargain away that job protection language when the collective agreement ends at the end of this year. As I noted in an interview with a Toronto Star reporter, that will virtually guarantee us a new nasty labour dispute in 2012, since what sensible employee would not fight back against an employer who has promised to fire them.

I have no personal interest in any of this.  Unlike apparently a lot of suburban Torontonians,  I really don’t care who picks up my garbage.  I put it out, and someone picks it up.  Here’s what interests me about all this.  The reason that Mayor Ford can get elected on a promise to fire employees must be that a good proportion of the population believes that job security is a bad thing. Ford’s supporters are seething about a contract term that says that if you have devoted 10 years of our life to the employer, then the employer can’t just fire you and give your job to a cheaper worker.  Instead, the employer has to try and find you other work.  Do you think a job security clause like this is terrible?

Not long ago, having a job for life was the norm, in a positive sense.  Workers joined a company out of school, started a low level job, with the expectation that  if they worked hard, they could spend their entire career at the same company.  This allowed people to plan their lives, invest in homes, raise children, with decent (but not absolute) confidence that they would continue to be employed.

When the Mayors Ford uses “jobs for life”, they mean it pejoratively. Ford supporters say we have to get rid of “jobs for life”. Doug Ford–whose daddy owns a business–says that everyone should be subject to losing their job whenever the employer decides to replace them with cheaper workers.  Obviously, this is a world that is very beneficial to employers, like the Ford family.  It is easier to make big profits and pay out huge executive compensation if you can keep workers’ wages low.

But the  mysterious question is: Why do workers think this is a good idea?  Is a system in which workers have no job security good for workers and society?

Perhaps what is happening is that people who don’t have any job security are just angry, envious of those that do.  And more and more people have no job security.  But rather than say, “good for them, I wish I could get some of that job security”, they say, “damn you, your employer should be able to fire you at a whim, just like my employer can fire me”.   Rather than be supportive of unions’ efforts to obtain some measure of job security for workers, the workers who support Ford’s ideology think unions are evil and that job security should be done away with.

This is relatively new phenomena.  In days past, an argument by anti-union politicians and corporations that job security provisions are terrible for workers and society would have been quickly dismissed by the vast majority of the population as self-serving corporate propaganda.  [See the interesting explanation of why this is perhaps no longer the case in this New Yorker article]

We live in an odd time when workers side with employers in arguing against employee job security and decent working conditions.  Employers and politicians have done a masterful job at persuading employees that job insecurity is in their best interest.  One day, historians may look back at this time and wonder what the hell workers were thinking.

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One Response to When Did Having No Job Security Become a Virtue?

  1. Ryan Reply

    February 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I just read an amazing article by Thomas Bredgaard that touted the benefits of ‘flexicuty’ – the love child of job security and employer flexibility. The discussion is mostly limited to Denmark’s experience with it, where ‘job for life’ is in no way part of their thought process. Instead, job security is relatively weak (they use a similar notice system as us). The big difference comes in two places though – extremely strong UI benefits (2 years @ 90%!), and state funded adult vocational retraining. Taken in tandem, this means that employees are more willing to take risks with lateral job-to-job moves and they aren’t as worried about being downsized.

    Bredgaard emphasizes that Denmark’s ‘flexicurity’ system was born out of unique socio-economic factors (basically, the country is halfway between free-market anglo-saxon and socialist nordic), but IMO it’s definite food for thought on how to fix Canada/Ontario’s horribly broken labour laws. I’ve always been a fan of the Canada Labour Code’s compromise on job security/flexibility – can’t Ontario borrow that?

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