Just voluntary slavery

Don’t you find it odd (and ironic) how wealthy people can say that raising the marginal tax rate on the top 10 per cent of income-earners is theft and bad for the economy?

Don’t you find it odd (and ironic) how wealthy people can say that raising the marginal tax rate on the top 10 per cent of income-earners is theft and bad for the economy?

But at the same time they can believe that unemployed people should work for zero pay — for just the privilege and experience of helping the 10 per cent turn a profit for.

Bank of Canada chief Stephen Poloz didn’t suggest that directly when he said recently that unemployed millennials living in their parents’ basements would be better off volunteering their skills in an area close to their university degrees, as a means of padding their resumes.

But the message his unintended audience received was the ironic one.

Poloz said his speculations on why the unemployed should work for no pay at all was “not a monetary policy matter.”

Well, good for that. Can you imagine him saying we should turn our economy around by creating wealth for free?

He said he was merely relating the advice he gives to young people who ask him for advice on starting a career.

But giving something of value away for free, in the hopes you might get paid for it later, is bad career planning.

There are about 200,000 Canadians with recent university training who cannot find work. The unemployment rate among this group is nearly double that for everyone else.

Working for free, says Poloz, would fill the gap in one’s resume between getting a degree or diploma and getting a job. Poloz called the gap the “scarring effect” — the time spent when your credentials erode while others gain experience in your area, and yet others graduate with “fresher” skills.

As governor of the Bank of Canada, Poloz knows that every time he opens his mouth, people will parse every syllable of his sentences. They will search for meaning in every facial tic, while he gives his reasons why the Canada’s central bank will do essentially nothing for another 90 days.

So he should know better than to publicly advise people to work in an underground economy. Can he explain the difference between employers taking on workers but not paying them, and people taking pay for their work but declaring no income for tax purposes?

Both practices are common in Canada — and both are illegal. Unless a worker is required to undertake job experience as part of a certified education program, it is against the law not to pay that person.

It is against the law for a person to agree to work for less than minimum wage, and against the law to ask them to do it.

There is a reason Canada has laws governing labour standards. These internships and Poloz’s suggestion that young people offer their work for free both subvert Canada’s minimum wage and labour laws.

We already have a history of young people literally being worked to death for no pay as interns.

In Edmonton, an intern fell asleep while driving home after a 16-hour (unpaid) shift, and was killed in a car crash.

Bell Canada was the subject of official complaints for rotating hundreds of people a year through unpaid internships, with little or no hope of a job at the end of the “experience.”

Walrus magazine was only one Canadian publication that was forced to stop taking on unpaid internships after their subscribers learned how a high portion of the product they paid for was produced for zero pay.

A business can get pretty used to not paying some of their staff. They can come to regard it as an entitlement.

It’s not as if the work of these interns has no value. If an employer does not have work to offer requiring more skill than flipping hamburgers (which is at least paid work), what are they doing?

Why would an employer demand university training to do work that has zero value?

We already know that interns often do the same work as paid staff in many cases.

Agreed, the thousands of young people coming out of our very expensive colleges and universities with poor job opportunities in their area of training is a problem. Telling these highly-trained (and highly-indebted) people that they have no value is not the answer.

One critic said Poloz was “tone deaf” on the issue. I would say he was being deliberately obtuse.

If Canada’s industry is so uniquely skill-selective that no university or college can prepare someone to do that work, the employers need to provide the training themselves. After all, they’re the ones profiting from it.

St. Paul, the world’s first missionary (and a tent-maker by trade), said that every worker deserves his pay. And every slave must be properly fed, clothed, housed and cared for when sick.

What has changed since?

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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