I find it interesting how many portfolios prioritize 'growing the economy' in their mandate. Designing an economy is certainly a worthy goal, but it seems the primary focus for the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning should be the Island’s workers, rather than a sort of second Economic Development Minister. Too often, the rights and needs of our workforce are overlooked, conceived of only in terms of unemployment rates and GDP growth. These measures reveal very little about the quality and conditions of jobs, if workers are making enough money to meet basic needs, or if workers are able to achieve work-life balance and maintain healthy lifestyles.
For example, the unemployment rate only measures the number of unemployed people currently looking for work at a given time. Left out of this measurement are those who are underemployed by either working part time or in work that does not make full use of their education, skills or abilities, and those who have become so dejected that they have stopped looking for paid work all together.
The #metoo movement highlights the significance of what a worker-focused lense can achieve. Sexual harassment and abuse are salient issues that many workers face and, as a starting point, it is wonderful to see Minister Biggar’s recommendation for a review for MLAs and government staff members. I am hopeful that she will further press the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning to answer the call from the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income to engage in a formal review of the Employment Standards Act for the betterment of all of PEI’s workforce. It is imperative that the Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning work diligently to ensure that all workers’ rights are protected and that every worker is safe from physical harm, sexual harassment and discrimination. Putting the wellbeing of workers at the forefront means creating a social and political environment in PEI where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. It seems implausible that the safety and wellbeing of workers is not highlighted as a priority of the Minister's mandate.
In her recent blog, Green Party Deputy Leader Lynne Lund recently asked us to consider the implications of what we as a province decide to measure. In terms of our Island’s workforce, are we effectively measuring who is thriving and who is being left behind? Applying the lense of worker wellbeing to all discussions of government should be the fundamental role of the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning- his or her essential contribution to the broader conversation. At the core, it is the minister’s job to work for workers.
Trish Altass is the Green Party of PEI's Shadow Critic for Workforce and Advanced Learning