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Wednesday, July 17 2024 @ 06:43 MDT

Shoe on the other foot.

Alberta PoliticsOn my way into work this morning I was listening to the local CBC morning show when I heard about an upcoming meeting between government and industry to discuss the employment problem in Alberta. Now when I say employment problem, I mean there aren't enough workers to go around which is causing problems for small employers who can't afford to pay huge salaries to attract workers. This meeting is interesting in what it tells us about business people and conservative government as well as what it means for the economy.

I find it interesting that, to the Tories and the business community, the only time employment is a problem is when there's not enough workers. When unemployment is up in the double digits, neither business or conservative government want to meet to discuss the issue and why would they. When there are too many workers for too few jobs economics comes into play in the employers' favour. Wages go down as workers compete for the few jobs there are. Working conditions also suffer as employers can treat workers as badly as they want, knowing that the workers are trapped since there aren't jobs at other firms to go to.

This all changes when there aren't enough workers to go around. Economics start working for the workers. Companies are forced to pay more and more for labour since they have to compete for the few workers that are available. Companies that treat their workers poorly also find it hard to keep staff as other jobs that not only pay better, but have better work environments are just around the corner. Suddenly, when the vaunted market system the conservatives and business crow about when work is scarce turns against them, conservative government and business turn into market interventionists. Something must be done since wages and the lack of workers is cutting into profits.

My point here is that conservatives and business leaders all pay lip service to the market when it's working for them. The moment the market works against them, either through higher costs due to a labour shortage or a shortage of any other good or service needed, the market has "failed" and something must be done about it. It's simple hypocrisy. It would seem that those who want unfettered markets only truly want them when they're benefiting from them personally. If suddenly that benefit goes away, boom, the market has gone wrong and the government better get involved.

Now there is a good side to this labour crunch in Alberta. The Tories would be loathe to admit it of course, but since the Alberta economy is in runaway overdrive something has to try to bring it under control. The shortage and expense of labour will act as a brake on the economy, slowing the insane growth to hopefully more manageable levels. A slowdown in economic growth in Alberta wouldn't be a bad thing. It would give the cash starved infrastructure in the province a chance to catch up with the growth in other areas. The slowdown is needed and business and the Tory government aren't likely to do anything that would cause one. Nor is the government in Alberta likely to do anything to address the infrastructure deficit as it would require a modest increase in spending to accomplish.

Of course another good thing about the labour shortage is that it really increases the value of labour. Workers have much more power when there's a shortage of them. A worker in Alberta is in a position to actually demand things from an employer and get them as employers get desperate for workers. For these times of unchecked growth, companies have to start thinking differently about workers. Treating workers like indentured servants won't cut it. Threatening layoffs won't work ether as the workers will simply leave for greener pastures. The workers of Alberta need to strike while the iron and economy are hot as they can get what they want out of employers and possibly the government as well. They'll need what they can get for when the economy eventually tanks, and it will, and workers need protection from the swinging pendulum.

Shoe on the other foot. | 2 comments | Create New Account
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Shoe on the other foot.
Authored by: Anonymous onTuesday, September 19 2006 @ 12:07 MDT
Does it really do us any good for MacDonalds to set the minimum wage at $10/hour? Sure, the takehome pay is higher, but when labour costs go up, so do the costs of goods. Great! Unchecked inflation - take a look at the cost of housing and the massive jump it has made in the past few years... Just what we needed, something to further expand the gap between rich and poor, have and have not.