OUSA critiques unfair work

Graphic by Lena Yang.

Graphic by Lena Yang.

Recently, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), a provincial post-secondary education advocacy group, released a paper urging the government to address student employment concerns.

The paper, titled “Youth Employment: Re-imagining the link between learning and labour,” was designed as a guideline for steps that the Ontario government and publicly funded universities should take in tackling high youth unemployment and unpaid internships. There is currently a great concern in Ontario with regards to youth unemployment, as many graduates find themselves educated and jobless.

Breaking into the labour market is no easy feat, as the current youth unemployment rate has reached 16 per cent.

The document demonstrates their vision for a long-term strategy in addressing this issue and its recommendations reflect the challenges students are currently facing.

Stephen Franchetto, vice-president of university affairs at the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, also serves as the vice-president of finance for OUSA.
Laurier is one of OUSA’s seven member universities. Franchetto described the importance of OUSA’s holistic approach.

“It’s realizing that education exists on a spectrum, it’s not just looking at one piece of the puzzle.  A big part is access to education, it’s so tightly linked to employment opportunities afterwards,” said Franchetto.

Access to education for disadvantaged youth, particularly aboriginal youth, those with disabilities and individuals of low economic backgrounds are of specific concern.

Dana Elizabeth, a recent Laurier graduate in communication studies, commented on her current experience with employment opportunities.

“Given the high rates of unemployment and the difficulty in finding standardized work, I am very discouraged by what the economy currently has to offer,” she said.

However, despite the frustrations in finding a job, Elizabeth,  like many other graduates, is one step ahead than those who have not had the opportunity to obtain a university degree. Today’s labour market furthers the challenges faced by students with the proliferation of unpaid work. In these positions, students must be willing to work for free and frequently rack up debt doing so.
Elizabeth was recently offered an internship, which she chose to decline.

“The concept of internships is socially misunderstood and muddled. Businesses are exploiting a growing range of talented young individuals, who may feel coerced into accepting free or [under]paid labour as their only option, only with the hope of receiving the proverbial ‘foot in the door’,” Elizabeth explained.

Unpaid internship positions are often marketed as providing valuable work experience or deemed necessary to break into certain industries.

Franchetto discussed the ways in which OUSA would like for these issues to be addressed.

“By extending the Employment Standard Act and having that enforced more thoroughly, we can actually ensure students have wages for jobs they should be getting wages for,” he said.

Franchetto felt positively about the co-op program at Laurier.

“Those are fantastic opportunities and I’ll advocate for those all day and we need to be doing more. Especially in other fields, for the liberal arts we can always be doing more,” he said. Franchetto believes entrepreneurship is also an important tool, which should be emphasized more at the university level.

This past year,the provincial government committed $295 million to be spent over two years on youth employment, $195 million of which will go towards hiring incentives for employers, including wage subsidies.

“It’s all about partnerships, what do the students want in conjunction with the universities, in conjunction with government, and it’s a negotiation all the time,” Franchetto said. “I think that really, this paper is a starting point. These are our thoughts and where we should be going with this and what we should be doing. This will inform our advocacy and our lobbying on what we would like to see.”

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