An Argument for Basic Income and the Trades

Ben Davies

My name is Ben Davies, and I’m a Red Seal Tower Crane Operator. I began my apprenticeship in 2014 after working in several other fields including labour work, trucking, equipment operation, plumbing and carpentry. I support basic income, and here’s why.

First off, let’s address the go-to remark of everyone who’s against a basic income: that people will stop working. No, they won’t. Full stop. All of us already have the ability to go after lower-stress, lower-pay jobs. But we don’t. People who want to earn the bare minimum aren’t the type of people who excel in the trades. The motivation in the trades is a matter of pride, ambition, and greed. The work we do changes the landscape of the city, and we do things that make our friends jealous. Even when someone isn’t motivated by pride in their work, or ambition to achieve ever greater goals, there’s always good old greed. Even if a tradesperson could stay at home on a basic income, what possible reason would they have to not use their free time to earn more money? Luxuries are a thing after all! There are two types of people in the trades: the people who live paycheck-to-paycheck no matter how much they make, and the people for whom it’s just never enough.

For the first group, they can’t just quit because a basic income won’t cover their bills; for the other group, they just won’t sit still. Even if they did quit their jobs, they wouldn’t be able to resist using their free time to make more money.

"The first thing that I foresee happening is that job sites will get safer."

That’s not to say that no one will quit, or that there won’t be any impact. However, I think the impacts will instead be positive. The first thing that I foresee happening is that job sites will get safer. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people who really need their jobs are far less willing to refuse unsafe work. With the reassurance of a basic income to keep them fed, workers will be more willing and able to voice their concerns and say no. Similarly, workers will be more willing to say no to unreasonable overtime hours and take time away from work when they need it. Workers will be able to take time off for schooling, to spend time with their families, or even just to recharge themselves with whatever they like to do. This will drastically improve the mental health and quality of life for tradespeople who are overworked. This, again, feeds back into safety. Workers who are burnt out or in a poor mental state are hazardous to everyone around them.

But let’s go back to those workers who will quit and rely on that basic income. How many of them are going to sit idle? Close to zero percent, I’d wager. They might take a few weeks or months to themselves for a well-deserved vacation, but they won’t keep that up. They’ll seek out jobs with better, and safer, working conditions. They’ll start small businesses. They’ll go to school. This is a total win for us. Having tradespeople free to explore their own businesses will fill demands in our economy and exploit opportunities most of us don’t even know exist. There are many skilled tradespeople whose expertise is wasted on their current jobs. Perhaps they will go out on their own and let Alberta benefit from the full breadth of what they can do, leaving a job opening behind them for someone less experienced. Likewise, many tradespeople have great ideas for technical innovations to improve our industries, but they don’t have the time to explore those ideas, nor the financial security to take the risks.

The job openings left behind by those who leave aren’t the disaster people make them out to be. They’re an opportunity; an opportunity for new people to get into the trades, to increase our diversity as older workers retire early, for skilled and ambitious workers to start their own businesses, and yes, for a few lazy workers to step aside and get out of the way of progress.

Those job openings lead us to another underrated matter: the bargaining power of employees. With employees in a better position to risk their jobs, they’re also in a better position to demand fair wages for their performance. The wage for dangerous, or unpleasant work might go up!

"With a basic income, we might see a burst of small businesses in Alberta, offering everything from custom furniture to new technology or improved training courses. Personally, I think it’s a risk we’d be stupid not to take."

Even if the nay-sayers are right, and their worst fears come to pass, it will have been worth the risk. Alberta isn’t made of glass. The province won’t burst into flames. We’ll just do what we’ve always done and pick ourselves back up, fix whatever has gone wrong, and be better off for it. Any failure is an opportunity so long as we’re ready to exploit it.


- Ben Davies