Exercising Agency: Quiet quitting is a sign we need to address workplace inequality

Why the notion of quiet quitting is just capitalist fear-mongering

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A red and white sign that says for hire
Our cost of living is rising much faster than our wages. Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

Recently, news companies and political commentators have latched onto the idea of “quiet quitting” — the practice of only putting in the minimum amount of work required for a job. This can involve avoiding working extra hours or tasks that aren’t in a job description. In every case, quiet quitting highlights the collective burnout experienced by minimum wage workers. Instead of seeing this trend as a symptom of a larger problem with capitalism’s current conditions, conservatives are using it as a scapegoat to uphold toxic work culture mentalities.

What critics call quiet quitting is simply workers setting boundaries that should already exist. The fact that people solely following their job description gets its own defamatory title is a sign something is seriously wrong with North America’s capitalistic work culture. We’re currently living through a crisis of increasing productivity alongside decreasing wages. Our work culture is unsustainable, which is why so many Canadians are working two jobs, or simply checking out emotionally. I can’t blame them.

In order to understand why quiet quitting isn’t just “slacking off,” we need to examine what makes people want to do so in the first place. People working minimum wage jobs are tired of being overworked for wages that don’t cover their basic necessities. Since housing and rental prices are rising much faster than wages, the working class is starting to feel helpless about their material well-being. Minimum wage workers make up 8.8% of our labour force, and they account for a large portion of essential workers. Why should they put maximum effort into jobs with corporations that don’t respect them or their right to a living wage?

People have been asking for a $15 minimum wage for years, but we’re past that point. The average house in Vancouver is now $1.2 million, compared to $180,000 in 1981. Adjusted to match today’s dollar, that equals $486,652. Our wages aren’t catching up to the rising cost of living, as seen by the fact that a third of the province is renting their home. Corporations get away with underpaying workers because of the outdated belief that low paying jobs are unskilled labour, typically since they require different skill sets than jobs in trades or academia. This mentality undermines the colossal impact that underpaid essential workers have on our economy, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s no such thing as unskilled labour, just different labour. The problematic myth of unskilled labour allows companies to deem certain jobs as “minimum wage” jobs, and take advantage of employees who already have limited work options. Students and immigrants make up most low paying jobs in Canada due to access barriers.

Society is seeing the consequences of late-stage capitalism unraveling in front of us. Somehow, we still just can’t make ourselves care enough. Our government needs to swiftly enact living wage legislation and enforce stronger regulations for workplace conditions. Employees should also understand their rights and continue unionizing wherever possible. Labour unions have the ability to stabilize economies and protect fair working conditions through employee-funded mutual aid. It’s time things actually change before class disparities continue to rise, and buying basic necessities becomes impossible.