Today, on this International Youth Day, I am going to share with you my personal experience which happens to the majority of young people today — those trying to build a career while only being offered contract work. A contractor’s life can be very exciting at times. With a start and end date, contract work allows one to go off on vacation and the chance to find new contracts upon one’s return. I enjoyed this lifestyle for four years. But there is a definite down side.

I graduated from college at the age of 21 and started “gaining experience” through companies offering contracts. At first, I thought this was great, because I believed it was the way to go. I realized this was not the case once I got a permanent job.

I learned about sick leave, paid leave and various types of benefits of which I was previously unaware. I was surprised but was told that this was normal; that all workers should be entitled to such benefits. I was able to start making long-term plans. Before this, the phrase ‘long-term’ did not exist in my vocabulary. Frankly, within my circle of friends, only two or three out of ten people had a permanent job before the age of thirty. Of three professionals, only one is protected by a union.

The majority of young workers know that many workers have lots of experience. We want the chance to learn. We want to continue the good work of recent years and to bring forth new ideas. If we apply for a position in your place of employment, it is because we respect the company and we are excited about the thought of joining the team. We would like to be part of a team where the atmosphere is welcoming and open. Of course, this would be in an ideal world. I am now part of a wonderful team who accept me and teach me every day about human rights or workers rights. Most of my generation are not so lucky. My new colleagues made me realize that contract life is very stressful and that young people deserve better working conditions.

Despite the myth that young people don’t want to work, the reality is we mostly want to show what we have to offer. We have new ideas and different life experiences. We want to be heard. I speak today on behalf of myself, my peers and those young people who want the chance to work and get things done.  

It’s one thing to talk, but how do we solve this problem?

I will tell you something that may surprise some of you and that could be eye opening. I wondered how, during an internship, I could be asked to design a website and stand-alone graphics without any compensation. I did not even get the minimum wage given to 15 or 16-year-olds who work in grocery stores and fast food chains.

I believe that if these companies had a union, they would have had no choice but to offer at least minimum wage for my work. I would have at least been able to pay my rent and buy groceries without incurring more debt than I already had. The world of young workers, especially those who are students, interns or on contract, is ripe for abuse and exploitation by employers.

It is upon leaving college or university that young people need financial help the most. And yet it is at this moment when employers downgrade our expertise and require us to volunteer so that they can save money! It is at this moment that employers should have an understanding for the new workers who have just finished their education and are new to the workforce by offering them a basic minimum wage that reflects the skills they are bringing to the organization.

Do you realize that 35 hours of work at minimum wage in Ottawa is insufficient to cover rent and pay bills without incurring debt? Despite this, you have to accept unpaid internships to gain experience. This isn’t even the case for cashiers at McDonald’s. I found this strange, but did not ask any questions because I did not know any better. I thought this was how you started a career nowadays until others made me realize that this was volunteering that only benefited the business. It is not by abusing youth and keeping us ignorant that business will thrive in the future. Exploiting young people today does not auger well for the long term.

All this to say that if you have been or are currently a contract employee, I understand your position more than you may realize. I got this job only a month and a half ago and was finally able to breathe. I can afford to be sick and not have to deal with the stress of not getting paid for that day. I can now afford a holiday and know that I still have a job when I get back. I can begin to make plans for my future knowing that I am receiving a fair and equitable salary. That’s what I call a career.

If your job is not unionized and you want benefits that match the work you do, I invite you to contact us. Calls remain confidential; we only want that workers’ rights be respected. You will be working the majority of your life and it is important that employers and workers respect one another. Don’t you think?

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