Fraser Institute misses the mark on real barriers to labour mobility in Canada

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The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, has released a new report about barriers to internal trade and labour mobility in Canada. There's a lot to dissect in the report, but I'd like to comment on the part that deals with labour mobility (geographic).

It's widely agreed that removing barriers to labour mobility is central to building a well-functioning labour market.

The key question is this: What are the real barriers to labour mobility?

Unfortunately, the Fraser Institute takes a narrow approach to this question. Predictably, when handed a telescope, they've chosen to look through the wrong end. Their focus is on reducing regulatory barriers i.e. harmonizing certification standards and licensing requirements.

Of course that's important. While it would be nice if they picked up the pace, it's worth noting that the provinces and territories are making progress under the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) to harmonize certification standards.

And I agree with the Fraser Institute that a lot more must be done to harmonize apprenticeship training. It makes no sense that an apprentice welder who does her classroom work in New Brunswick won't receive credit for on-the-job training completed in Saskatchewan.

However, by focusing solely on regulatory barriers the Fraser Institute misses the bigger picture.

If you were willing to pack up your family and move to another region in the country for a job, what would be your top priorities and concerns?

For most people, they'd want to know that employers with job vacancies are offering permanent, full-time jobs and higher wages. Unfortunately, it's harder than ever for Canadians to find quality full-time jobs. The majority of new jobs are precarious jobs -- part-time, temporary or self-employment. According to the CIBC, the quality of jobs today is at the lowest level in 25 years.

And wage rates in Canada have barely kept pace with inflation over the last several years. This is a fact that former Employment Minister Jason Kenney loudly asserted in many public speeches.

After years of flat wages, rising costs and mounting household debt, many Canadian families are struggling to save what they need for retirement. Shrinking access to workplace pensions is making matters worse. Today, less than 40 per cent of workers have access to a pension plan at work. In the private sector fewer than 25 per cent of workers have a workplace pension. For young workers (under the age of 29) the number drops to just 13 per cent.

The cost of living is another important factor. More families would consider relocating for work if housing was more affordable across the country. The average selling price of a Canadian home was up six per cent in September 2015 to $433,649. And one in five Canadian renters face an affordable housing crisis, spending more than half their income on shelter costs.

For many families the lack of affordable child-care spaces is a barrier to moving to another region for work. Only one in five children (aged 0 to 5) has access to regulated child care in Canada, even though 73.5 per cent of their mothers participate in the workforce. Infant spaces are the hardest to find and the most expensive. In some of Canada's big cities, families pay more than $1,600 every month per child. In an effort to weather their child-care expenses, many parents lean on other family members who live nearby to help.

Not enough good jobs. Shrinking pension coverage. Soaring housing prices. And a lack of affordable child-care spaces. These are just a few of the real barriers that Canadians face when they consider moving to another part of the country for work.

As with any problem, the resolution must be preceded by an accurate diagnosis of its root causes. By focusing only on regulatory barriers, the Fraser Institute has a shrunken view of the problem. It's time for the Fraser Institute to start looking through the correct end of the telescope.

This piece originally appeared on Union Research and is reprinted with permission.

Mike Luff is a Senior Researcher with the Canadian Labour Congress, Canada's largest labour organization.

Photo: flickr/ Kat Northern Lights Man

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