Wednesday, 31 January 2018 11:56

‘Precarious Work will Define our Future’

By: Susan Korah in Ottawa

Three labour experts have highlighted the critical need for radical changes in government policies and programs that are out of step with the current realities of most Canadians’ work lives.

They were speaking at a panel discussion on “In Search of the Next Gig: A Snapshot of Precarious Work in Canada Today” in Ottawa on January 25, hosted by Policy Options Magazine, a digital publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).  Moderating the panel was Jennifer Ditchburn, editor of Policy Options, and former journalist with the Canadian Press (CP).

“If we are to walk the walk that matches our talk about how inclusive we are in Canada, those who create our labour policies and programs should take a close look at the precarious work situation that most Canadians are caught in, and design their policies accordingly,” commented Sunil Johal, one of the three panelists.  Johal is policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think-tank, associated with the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.

The other two panelists were Francis Fong, Chief Economist with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPAC) and Wendy Vuyk, regional coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Region at the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation.

“Most policies and programs intended to support Canadian job seekers are tied to conventional ideas of employment and were designed for the 1950s when there was a 9 to 5, lifelong job for the wage earner in a typical family,” he said.

Fong, Johal and Vuyk analyzed the changes that have sent the labour market into a tailspin, leaving employees with few options other than what all three, as well as Ditchburn termed “precarious work,” – short term jobs with no stability, few or no benefits, and no prospects of leading to a lifelong career path.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future.” -Francis Fong[/quote]

A major cause of the erosion of stable jobs and the growth of precarious employment was the decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1990s and early 2000s and the growth of the high-tech sector, the panelists explained.

Research challenges

Fong pointed out that even research on this topic is lagging behind the times. He emphasised that in order to capture the nuances of this new workforce reality, researchers need a clear definition of the term “non-standard work”, an umbrella term for all kinds of precarious work.

He said that the lack of consensus on a definition of precarious work poses a serious challenge for researchers, whose work underpins policy decisions.

“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future,” he said.

He added that no single government agency is collecting all the relevant data, although Statistics Canada has been tracking it since the 1990s, a period which saw the rapid rise of this phenomenon.

The problem is further complicated, he said, by the need for the involvement of so many sectors --labour, immigration, the provincial and federal governments, as well as the private sector.

Stagnant wages, declining unionization

Highlighting another major problem, Johal discussed the disconnect between Canada’s overall economic growth and workers’ wages.

“While the economy continues to grow, wages have become stagnant,” he said, adding the costs of food, housing, childcare and other necessities have also gone up.

Johal also referred to the decline of unionization, which added to worker’s problems.

“Workers have nobody to represent them and speak about their issues,” he said.

He said the most vulnerable were the 30 percent of workers who were in precarious jobs because they had no other option, as opposed to the 70 per cent who did this type of work by choice.

“We need to focus on that 30 percent and to refresh our social policies and programs to address their needs,” he said.

Preparing for the future world of work: An optimistic outlook

Vuyk’s presentation focused on preparing for the future, given the changing economic landscape which she termed the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“Sixty-five percent of today’s elementary school children will work in jobs that don’t exist today,” she predicted.

Nevertheless, she presented an optimistic outlook, saying that although jobs will be lost, others will be created by new inventions.

She emphasized the need to train young people to become entrepreneurs and to think about their careers as a business.

She called on educators to emphasize soft skills such as communication, financial literacy, cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability.

She said it was important for also parents and guidance counsellors to understand that university is not the only key to gainful employment.

She advised parents to give their children as many life-broadening experiences as possible, including travel.

“We have to create a culture of lifelong learning,” she concluded.

Susan Korah is an editor and freelance writer who has worked with a number of publications while continuing to manage her personal travel blog. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontarioseries. 

Published in Economy

by Jennifer Huang in Toronto


I recently read an article entitled “The New Chinese Working Class and the Canadian Left” by Justin Kong that reinvigorated a passion of mine – organizing immigrant workers. 


As Kong puts it, “the conditions for an immigrant left are ripe in the Chinese community.” 


Having spent the last four years working as an organizer with the Toronto & York Region Labour Council trying to organize Chinese union workers, you can understand my excitement when I read Kong’s article. 


Yes, you read correctly – I wasn’t organizing Chinese workers into unions; rather I was organizing “the already organized.” 


[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I wasn’t organizing Chinese workers into unions; rather I was organizing “the already organized.”[/quote]


Much like Kong observed, the Chinese community was – and is – very much unengaged with the Canadian left. Looking around, I could see that there were in fact many Chinese Canadians who were union members, but did not self-identify as such.


Building trade union consciousness


At the Labour Council, we developed the Chinese Workers’ Network where we went around asking local unions to identify Chinese union members from within their ranks.


We invited these members to Chinese-language events where we did education work about the importance of unions, explained and de-mystified union structures and celebrated the many gains that the labour movement has achieved for Canada (debunking the myth that Canada is a benevolent country with good social programs that no one really had to struggle for). 


Last I checked, we had over 500 people identified on our database as Chinese. We developed a committee who would translate articles about workers’ struggles into Chinese, and put these up on our website.


[quote align="center" color="#999999"][L]istening to the stories about their employer’s outrageous abuse and violation of human rights, I knew that our organizing efforts were not enough.[/quote]


Even with the limited resources we had to dedicate towards this initiative, we’ve had tremendous success.


Perhaps the best example was when one group of Chinese workers contacted us to help them organize a union. One hundred per cent of the workers voted for a union, but listening to the stories about their employer’s outrageous abuse and violation of human rights, I knew that our organizing efforts were not enough. 


Engaging new immigrant workers


What we began at the Labour Council was only one side of a two-pronged approach. We need to continue this mobilizing externally into the community where workers are already organized – in their faith groups, community associations, sites of recreation and leisure, etc.


While I was working as an adult literacy instructor, some of my students found part-time work as community health ambassadors.


These students were specifically recruited because their first language was not English, so while they were trained in English to deliver health-related topics, they were expected to organize members in their own communities (using their own social networks) to deliver these workshops in their mother tongues. 


As I witnessed the effectiveness of this model at the time, I wondered why unions couldn’t adopt a similar community approach with many of the new immigrant workers?


[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If the Canadian labour movement is to survive and actually grow, all unions should be dedicating resources to develop a political left within immigrant communities.[/quote]


These workshops would be advantageous not only to the worker learning about his/her rights, but could also offer an array of tips to unions about where organizing efforts should be focused. 


If the Canadian labour movement is to survive and actually grow, all unions should be dedicating resources to develop a political left within immigrant communities – and towards the goal of organizing workers into unions.


Central labour bodies in each region need to take a hard look to see which non-English speaking communities are their largest demographic, and recognize not all communities of colour are recent immigrants – some have been in Canada for a long time.


Organizing Chinese immigrant workers


There is a good opportunity right now to organize a left within Chinese immigrant workers, but we need leadership and more resources from all parts of organized labour to do this. 


Workers in the Chinese diaspora, who are underpaid and undervalued, often feel that they have no choice, but to accept their working conditions; otherwise they face unemployment or self-employment. They feel that they lack the language skills to find employment in the Canadian mainstream, or seek help to remedy their situation.


[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With Jason Kenney at the helm, the Conservatives have done a wonderful job of convincing Chinese Canadians they are watching out for their best interests.[/quote]


It is precisely because workers find themselves in these situations of precariousness that the labour movement has an opportunity to engage them. To not do so is to our detriment. 


Our prolonged absence in any form of sustained engagement with the Chinese immigrant working class has already begun to bolster the ranks of the political right. With Jason Kenney at the helm, the Conservatives have done a wonderful job of convincing Chinese Canadians they are watching out for their best interests. 


Kong puts it best: “If we look throughout Canada’s history, we will see that incorporating immigrant workers has been central to the power of organized labour and the Canadian left. However, that this incorporation has often excluded immigrant workers who are not white men has always been an overarching, strategic misstep.”


A labour movement that is inclusive needs to create – and sustain – a welcoming space for all workers regardless of language, race, religion or accent. It is my hope to continue the discussion of how we might engage Chinese immigrant workers – but more broadly, all immigrant workers.

A child-immigrant herself, Jennifer Huang worked as an organizer at the Toronto & York Region Labour Council where she spearheaded the Chinese Workers’ Network (CWN). Its success spurred the creation of the other workers’ networks – Filipino, Tamil and Somali. 


{module NCM Blurb}


Published in Commentary

by Justin Kong in Toronto

The results of the recent federal election shows that we need a better understanding of how immigrant groups are mobilized and integrated into formal spheres of Canadian politics. This two-part series focuses on the Chinese community in metropolitan areas of Canada. Part II examines the new Chinese working class, how conditions are ripe for the development of a Chinese left and what this all means for the Canadian left.

With the devastating electoral defeat of the New Democratic Party last month in the 2015 Federal Elections, it’s clear that the Canadian left must adjust their strategy. The new strategy needs to support the development of a progressive, grassroots immigrant power to counter the presence of more conservative and moderate elements within these communities.  

In the Chinese diaspora, while there are a number of strong progressive leaders at various levels of government and in the community at large, the presence of a mobilized, grassroots Chinese immigrant left has yet to be felt in recent years.

This lies partly in the fact that one group has long been unengaged: the Chinese immigrant working class. 

New wave of Chinese immigrants, new attitudes towards labour

Contrary to the common trope of the rich Chinese investor immigrant, one merely has to look around the many Chinese ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto and Vancouver to see that there are actually tremendous populations of workers labouring in the ethnic economy. These workers are often engaged in the food and services industry in precarious conditions and without the full protection of employment laws and standards.

This population has long been here and has remained relatively unengaged by the mainstream left and organized labour. A small group find themselves in the progressive political spaces of community labour organizations such as the Workers Action Centre in Toronto. 

What has changed in recent years, however, is the composition of this Chinese working class and the increasing maturity of the Chinese diaspora in Canada. These two conditions have important ramifications for the possibility of a progressive Chinese element and the Canadian left at large.

In the past two decades the flow of Chinese immigrants, which had previously been largely dominated by those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, has shifted to a flow that is increasingly dominated by those from mainland China. 

Given that immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan have likely been here for a longer period of time it is more likely that they have attained more upward mobility with less ‘working class’ members. More importantly these groups have radically different pre-migration attitudes towards the left and labour politics than the new wave from China. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This population has long been here and has remained relatively unengaged by the mainstream left and organized labour.[/quote]

In Hong Kong, family histories of communist persecution, the infamous 1967 riots which linked trade unionism with social instability and communist insurgency, combine to stifle the possibility of broad labour politics amongst the Hong Kong populace. It should be no surprise then that Canadian labour politics will find it difficult to engage this group.

On the other hand, the new Chinese immigrant working class is largely composed of skilled professionals from mainland China who grew up in very different conditions. Growing up and living in Mainland China means this group has at the very least a basic understanding of concepts of class, capitalism and exploitation — important preconditions to any progressive and labour politics. 

With the economic rise of China and the proliferation of consumer culture, leftist politics may have had little salience amongst this population when they were still living in China. 

After immigrating the situation becomes different. Labouring in the deskilling, dehumanizing and precarious Canadian economy reignites in the Chinese worker the earlier internalizations of working class consciousness and left politics.

Due to these factors, this new Chinese working class, more than any previous Chinese wave, has the potential to constitute a progressive, left element within the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

Bridging the ethnic and the mainstream

As waves upon waves of Chinese immigrants have settled in Canada, the Chinese diaspora as a whole has become increasingly mature. This maturity manifests in an increasing number of potential progressive political leaders who are able to connect the mainstream with the ethnic.

These two developments together represent the fertile conditions for the development of a left grassroots counter presence in the Chinese community. In the absence of sustained engagement, this new Chinese working class may remain inactive in formal politics and quite possibly bolster the ranks of the political right and moderates.

Chinese churches, for example, appear to be making in-roads with this new Chinese working class. Grounded in the ethnic community through their ‘service’, Chinese churches in Toronto have initiated sermons and fellowship groups catered specifically to Chinese restaurant workers. For the left, such a development is illustrative of the extensive vacuum that exists.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This new Chinese working class has the potential to constitute a progressive, left element within the Chinese diaspora in Canada.[/quote]

If we look throughout Canada’s history we will see that incorporating immigrant workers has been central to the power of organized labour and the Canadian left. However, that this incorporation has often excluded immigrant workers who are not white has always been an overarching, strategic misstep.

In order for the Canadian left to establish a foothold in immigrant communities for electoral struggles or otherwise, the establishment of grassroots strength within these communities is essential. To do this the immigrant working classes and political leadership of immigrant communities must be mobilized and connected with the mainstream left.

By supporting and building the emerging immigrant left is to reverse the decades of decline of the Canadian left. The conditions for an immigrant left is ripe in the Chinese community and it may likely be the case in other immigrant communities as well. All that remains for us to do is to come together and figure out how we can make it a reality — and that, of course, is the hard part.

Justin Kong studies sociology and is involved with community and labour organizing in Toronto.

Journalist Ranjit Bhaskar mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program. 

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Published in Commentary

by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver

During the 2015 election campaign, one issue remained imminent for many Canadians: how will the newly elected government improve the economy? But, a question less pondered, of interest to many immigrant communities is how will the government improve economic inequalities.

One economics professor from British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University recently pointed out which promises made by the major political parties in Canada made would lower inequality.

“Inequality is more about wealth than income,” professor Krishna Pendakur said during a public lecture in Burnaby earlier this month.

Wealth, he said, is money generated from stocks, bonds, etc., and income is based on labour.

Economic platforms

Pendakur said the Conservatives’ plan is vague when it comes to economic inequality  – more commonly referred to as the gap between the rich and the poor.

“They promise to grow the economy, to have a bigger pie, then a trickle-down effect,” he explained. “Whatever crumbles from this pie and falls down to the rest of the 99 per cent, that’s it.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Pendakur said the Conservatives’ plan is vague when it comes to economic inequality.[/quote]

Pendakur noted though that some trickle-down effect did happen with previous policies of low tax rates, low revenue and low public spending. “There was high skilled blue-collared incomes in Alberta while the party lasted.”

Looking to the Liberals and New Democrats, Pendakur said both parties promise to increase guaranteed income supplement, which is a good thing. The income supplement provides a monthly non-taxable benefit to Old Age Security recipients who have a low income and are living in Canada.

To get the supplement, the recipients must be legal residents in Canada and receiving the old age pension.

Addressing national inequality

Pendakur pointed out which policies each party promised would likely be most effective in addressing national inequality.

For the New Democratic Party (NDP), he said the two major ones are national subsidized childcare and national universal drug coverage. “Both are long term commitments and [Tom] Mulcair will need more than one election to see it through,” he commented.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[F]or some, even if they’ve seen a doctor and the doctor has written the prescription, sometimes people can’t afford the treatment at the pharmacy. It’s the biggest cost to someone’s health.”[/quote]

Pendakur said political parties are careful about what they can claim because there are certain jurisdictions which federal governments don’t have a lot of control over.

Health care is decided at the provincial level, so that is why the NDP chose pharmaceuticals, he said.

“It’s good because, for some, even if they’ve seen a doctor and the doctor has written the prescription, sometimes people can’t afford the treatment at the pharmacy. It’s the biggest cost to someone’s health.”

Minimal wage is also a provincial jurisdiction, Pendakur explained, which is why the NDP promised a minimum wage of $15 per hour for federal workers. “100,000 workers will be affected.”

Turning to the Liberals, he drew attention to the party’s promise to increase child benefits with lower implicit tax rates on them.

The party also said it would raise tax rates on personal income over $200,000 by four per cent and lower income tax rates for the middle class from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent.

Privileging particular demographics

During the Q-and-A session, an audience member asked Pendakur what he thought about the Conservative party’s income-splitting tax plan.

“Income splitting is awful,” Pendakur replied.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Pendakur] said [income splitting] values two-parent, two-income families and ignores every other demographic in the country.[/quote]

He said the plan values two-parent, two-income families and ignores every other demographic in the country. “Why is this particular demographic worth more than others?”

University of Fraser Valley student Anoop Tatlay agreed with him.

“I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about the [income-splitting tax] proposal that bothered me, but once he said it, it clicked,” stated Tatlay, who is a single mother. “I’d thought the same thing.”

Pendakur presented complex information in an engaging manner, said Tatlay. The newfound knowledge she gained motivated her to look more closely at the federal budget and public spending and try to understand it better.

As a Canadian citizen, the 37-year-old resident of Mission, B.C. said she plans to vote on Oct. 19.

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Economy

by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto

Susan* felt lucky to land her first job as an interpreter a few months after settling in Ottawa. But the rollercoaster ride that followed – leaving her without payment after more than six months – left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Having emigrated from China two years prior, she had tried to find work through many employment agencies to no avail - despite her experience back home translating for several book clients and the New York Times’ Chinese-language website.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I was so excited. I also felt anxious [about] some medical terms I might not be able to interpret . . .  Instead of checking reviews on this company, I started checking my dictionary.”[/quote]

Finally, she got a reply from Able Translations Inc., through Canada’s national job hunt website, and soon after signed a freelance agreement with the Mississauga, Ontario–based company.

Not only was she delighted with the pay rate of $25 an hour, but also the fact that she was able to work even without an interpreter licence, which is required by many other companies in the language interpretation industry.

“Although I’m a professional in translation back in China, I have not yet had a licence here. I [had only been] here for a short time; I [needed] to find a job,” explains Susan, during a phone interview with New Canadian Media.

Able Translations sent an assignment on January 13, asking Susan to interpret at a physiotherapy clinic in Ottawa the next day for an insurance-related issue.

“I was so excited. I also felt anxious [about] some medical terms I might not be able to interpret . . .  Instead of checking reviews on this company, I started checking my dictionary,” explains Susan, admitting not doing a background check on Able was her biggest mistake.

According to Susan, the assignment went well – she satisfied the expectations of both the client and Able. She then signed a time sheet, filed an invoice, and waited for her first payment of $50. Upon signing the original agreement, she had opted for immediate payment versus the company’s default pay schedule, which issues earnings every two months.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Montero dismisses accusations Able tries to take advantage of bilingual immigrants hungry for professional jobs.[/quote]

“I haven’t received any payment even right now,” she claims. “From sending them emails every two to three days to every week, I never got an answer. Every time [I called] someone [would] forward my calls to nowhere.”

Several other translators have posted comments narrating their experiences working with Able Translations, however, NCM was unable to corroborate their claims independently.

An unregulated industry

Julio Montero, in charge of Able Translations’ compliance and regulatory affairs, tells New Canadian Media the company never fails to pay anyone.

“When an interpreter doesn’t receive payment, it may be for a number of reasons,” he explains. “Some might not file the invoice properly, others may not sign the time sheet, or they unfortunately engaged in unprofessional [conduct].” He adds interpreters who are biased or show up late for a job are not compensated.

As for why the company would hire someone without a license, Montero explains: “Unfortunately, the language industry in Canada is not a regulated profession. It is not illegal for you to work as an interpreter. We have certain standards . . . We hire accredited interpreters. It is someone who has a combination of knowledge, experience and certain accreditation.”

He also explains that, based on a client’s urgency to hire an interpreter as well as the availability of the interpreters, Able will sometimes opt for less qualified candidates.

Montero dismisses accusations Able tries to take advantage of bilingual immigrants hungry for professional jobs. He stresses that the company has hundreds of freelance interpreters and translators and most of them are second-generation Canadians.

“No one is perfect. We recently went through a transition in [our] accounting system. Sometimes payments may slip through cracks,” Montero explains. He encourages people who have payment issues with the company to contact him directly.

Not ‘an industry for new immigrants’

Lola Bendana, president of national member organization Language Industry Association (AILIA), stresses the importance of gaining proper training and licensing in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Being bilingual doesn’t necessarily mean being able to interpret or translate . . . you also need to understand many social contexts and Canadian culture.” - Julie Li, interpreter[/quote]

“We don’t have legal authority to arbitrate a financial settlement,” Bendana says.

Professionalization and professional practice is what AILIA usually recommends to people, continues Bendana.

“Sign a contract with an organization, stop working for the company if you don’t get paid,” she advises, adding people claiming not to be paid can decide to go to small claims court and file an official financial dispute.

Bendana also indicates that, back in 2006, Seneca College launched the first of its kind training course for the language interpretation industry, and since then many other colleges have started to offer the program.

The Language Interpretation Training Program, a 180-hour certificate course to train interpreters designed by the Ontario Council on Community Interpreting, is a step toward professionalization and standardization of the industry.

Julie Li (pictured left), a Toronto-based interpreter, has finished one and a half years of the training program at Seneca College and has already obtained a basic Community Interpretation Licence. She currently works with MCIS Language Services and 911 Emergency Services.

“Being bilingual doesn’t necessarily mean being able to interpret or translate,” Li says. “I don’t even think this is an industry for new immigrants because you also need to understand many social contexts and Canadian culture.”

Hearing about Susan’s case, Li says it should be treated as a common labour dispute like in any other industry, but adds, “Unlicensed job seekers are prone to be ripped off because there are always companies [that] want to target them.”

*Susan’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Education
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 17:24

Site C Jobs Should Be Open to All in B.C.

The concept of time travel got a big boost in the 18th century when writer H.G. Wells authored one of his most notable science fiction works, The Time Machine. Last week, the B.C. building trades’ unions made its own fantastical pitch for traveling back in time.

The building trades unions asked the court to bring the province back 50 years to a time when workers in their hiring halls were prioritized over all other workers on public infrastructure projects. They called on the government to abandon plans for the managed open-site model of the Site C hydroelectric dam megaproject and adopt an outdated closed-shop model

The Closed-Shop Model

At a time when we need to maximize access to skilled labour in the province, a closed-shop model would essentially hand building trades unions a monopoly on the largest public infrastructure project in B.C. history. 

The B.C. building trade unions are nostalgic for the uncompetitive, unfair, and untenable closed-shop agreements of the 1960s and 1970s. This model had project owners negotiate the terms of the project labour agreement with a union or a group of unions. Then contract bidding was allowed only to those contractors who already had agreements with the signatory unions. 

In some cases, only members of those building trades unions were allowed access to work. In others, alternative union and non-union workers had to pay dues to the building trades unions in order to work on the project, irrespective of their choice of labour representation.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As a province we can’t afford to go back in time.[/quote] 

This approach had clear drawbacks. To begin with, it discriminated against workers who had chosen to be represented by a different union; plus, it discouraged these workers from contributing their expertise to the project due to these additional barriers to entry for the work. 

Canada’s labour market has also evolved dramatically since the 1960s to include a richer diversity of players: traditional craft unions, alternative unions, and non-union labour organizations. The diversity of players in the labour market has created a path for a managed open-site model.

The Managed Open-Site Model

What B.C.’s building trades unions don’t want you to know is that managed open-site models have been employed successfully on many major infrastructure projects in British Columbia. It’s a model that has worked for both public and private sector projects including BC Hydro’s Ruskin Dam and the Interior to Lower Mainland Transmission Line.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]e must all focus on working together to meet the labour challenges ahead.[/quote]

On these projects, CLAC workers, non-unionized contractors, and Building Trades subcontractors worked alongside one another. With this model, the question was never which workers can we exclude, but how many skilled British Columbians can we put to work. As a result, project owners have seen an improved labour supply, budget savings and greater hiring flexibility.

While Premier Christy Clark has recognized the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, she should also continue to support fair access to work and uphold the managed open-site model for the Site C megaproject. BC Hydro simply can’t shut out skilled workers when the province is expecting one million job openings by 2020. 

As a province we can’t afford to go back in time. 

Managed open sites are critical to the success of Site C and future major infrastructure projects because they create jobs for British Columbians and help build a prosperous future for our province’s economy.

With considerable plans on the horizon for B.C., especially in the LNG sector, government, industry and union players must have an eye to the future and not the past; we must all focus on working together to meet the labour challenges ahead.

David Prentice is the Provincial Director CLAC BC, which is a multi-sector union representing over 60,000 workers in almost every sector.

Reprinted with permission from the Asian Pacific Post.

Published in Economy
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 16:22

Research Watch: Studies Paint Depressing Picture

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriyain Toronto

It may not be time for report cards in school just yet, but when it comes to research, several annual report cards are in. In this edition of Research Watch we take a look at three recently released reports that speak to how immigrants and visible minorities are faring in various aspects of Canadian life from child poverty to employment in the public sector to corporate boards. The overall grade in each instance: F.

Immigrant children getting left behind

Not having lunch at school. Not being able to participate in extracurricular activities. Being made fun of for being on welfare. When asked what poverty feels like, these were some of the responses that some of Ontario’s children provided, in a recently released report administered by Campaign 2000 and Family Services Toronto. And for 50 per cent of the province’s children born to immigrants this feeling is part of daily life, states the report. This is in comparison to the 20 per cent of children overall that live in poverty across Ontario.

The report, which used Statistics Canada data from 2012 income tax returns, brings attention to not only this startling information, but to the fact that in 1989 the federal government put forth a strategic plan to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. Twenty-five years later, the problem has only increased, particularly for children of new immigrants, with racialized and First Nations children next in line.

“There’s plenty the government could do to end poverty, but I don’t understand why they aren’t doing that,” an anonymous Ontario grade school student says in the report. And the words hold much weight. Essentially, everything the government could, and should, be doing is outlined in the report. Perhaps the most insightful though: “Eradicating child poverty in Ontario requires addressing and dismantling long-standing systemic inequities.” Without this key element, no matter how many tax benefits or increases to social assistance are made (all of which was cited as part of 1989’s plan, then again in 2008 and again in 2014), real change will not be brought about. The various levels of government must address the root causes of this poverty, versus placing bandage solutions on the complex issue. 

Along these lines, the report calls on the government to, for example, legislate Employment Equity to remedy discrimination in Canadian workplaces, repeal the three month waiting period for immigrants to receive Ontario Health Insurance coverage, create equity and anti-racism boards to address inequities and take a proactive approach to enforcing employment standards to provide equal protection for people employed under the temporary foreign worker program. These specific recommendations speak to some of the unique challenges facing individuals of immigrant and racialized backgrounds and are in addition to more blanket proposed solutions of raising minimum wage to $15 an hour and ending the deduction of child support and the Ontario Child Benefit from social assistance funds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There’s plenty the government could do to end poverty, but I don’t understand why they aren’t doing that,” an anonymous Ontario grade school student says in the report.[/quote]

Many mitigating factors point out that this issue is only going to get worse if those in power don’t sit up, take notice, and most importantly, take action. The Ontario job market is bleak. Manufacturing jobs, once a major employer for women, racialized and recent immigrant populations, make up only 11 per cent of the market now, in comparison to a previous 18 per cent. Recent legislation, Bill C-583, if passed, may limit access to social assistance for refugee claimants. The generation born since 1989, when the vow of eliminating child poverty was made, is up against more unemployment than ever before, coupled with rising tuition, cost of living and limited affordable housing. Add to that mix being a young person who is of colour, new to the country, suffers from mental health challenges or is homeless and the odds only stack higher. All the while, the gap between the highest and lowest income families continues to widen.

What does all this mean? It means that the time is now for change. However, the most telling aspect of the report may also be the most discouraging. In 2008, a commitment was made to develop tailored solutions to the unique needs of women, racialized communities, newcomers, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal peoples, among others at higher risk of poverty. As of November 2014, while some investments for Aboriginal children and those with disabilities have been made, and some employment programs for newcomers have been implemented, no specific solutions have been outlined or reported, for racialized communities, nor has any commitment to tracking impact in this community been made. 

Having set a new goal in 2008, to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent in five years, and still fallen short – as of 2013 the rate had declined just over nine per cent – it is clear the work is far from over, and attention must be paid to Ontario’s most marginalized.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Eradicating child poverty in Ontario requires addressing and dismantling long-standing systemic inequities.[/quote]

Skilled immigrants missing in civil servant jobs  

It’s somewhat ironic. Multiculturalism and diversity are often promoted as two of Canada’s most redeeming qualities. But within its own three levels of government there is a gap in employment diversity that needs to be addressed says a recent study released by ALLIES (a Maytree affiliated organization). That gap is one of skilled immigrants – noticeably underrepresented in public sector jobs. Titled Government as Employer of Skilled Immigrants, the study aims to encourage government to become leaders in the area of hiring immigrants, while providing context to the challenges and conditions at play within the current work force. This isn’t just of utmost importance because the public sector represents a huge job market – the government currently employs 3.6 million people at its varying levels – but authors Sarah Wayland and Dan Sheffield write that it is also worth paying attention to because the government holds great influence over the rest of the market. Whether public or private, if other employers see the government taking greater strides to purposely hire skilled immigrants, they just may follow suit.

“By bringing in fresh perspectives whether from youth or immigrants or others, there is labour force advantage to be gained,” said Susan Brown, an employee of City of Toronto, in the report. “Moreover with an aging workforce, governments need new employees, even if overall numbers continue to decline. Prioritizing immigrants into the future gives us a great opportunity to diversify our workforce and address imbalances.”

This only makes sense for a country that has made a commitment to increasing focus on immigrants as skilled workers – in fact, it is expected that over the next 10 years, close to 100,000 recent immigrants will be added to the labour market annually. Not only will these individuals add to the diversity of the government bodies, bringing with them international perspectives and connections, but they also bring an element of lived experience which is beneficial in serving the immigrant population, which generally represents 20 per cent (in some areas much higher) of Canadian society.

The report cites several barriers that stand in the way of recent immigrants gaining employment with the government (the rates increase the longer individuals are in Canada), including lack of supports in smaller communities, bilingual and citizenship qualification criteria, seniority and a lack of data focused on the immigrant experience in the application, interview, hiring and retention stages of employment.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“By bringing in fresh perspectives whether from youth or immigrants or others, there is labour force advantage to be gained,” said Susan Brown, an employee of City of Toronto, in the report.[/quote]

Some organizations are more intentional with efforts to hire immigrants, than others, according to the report. Leading the pack is the City of Ottawa, recognized as one of the Best Diversity Employers in Canada in 2013, which has an active plan in the works to include immigrants in its organization as an effort to better reflect the community it serves. Using a strategy coined the Equity and Inclusion Lens since 2009, the City of Ottawa is proactively taking steps such as providing training to city councillors and staff, to remove systemic barriers and promote inclusion internally.

As it stands overall, while a shift in hiring culture is being cultivated in some areas across the country, immigrants are half as likely as their Canadian-born counterparts to land a job in public administration, but far more likely than Canadian-born residents to be working in manufacturing, accommodation and food service. In order for this to change, the report indicates it is crucial for a government organization to embed diversity into its day-to-day culture instead of having it as an “add-on”. 

Minorities barely visible on corporate boards

The country’s corporate boards are in need of some more diversity – visible diversity that is. It seems that while there have been positive increases in the area of women sitting on corporate boards, visible minority representation is at an all-time low. This is according to The Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC) annual report card, released this month.

In 2010, when the council was established, the percentage of visible minorities sitting on the boards of the companies studied, which range in industry from Finance and Insurance, Utilities and Retail/Trade to Manufacturing and Mining/Oil/Gas, was just over five. This year, visible minorities clocked in at less than half of that – two per cent.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Part of the underlying problem – when board members retire or step down, the remaining members tend to look to personal circles to fill the positions, and well, if visible minorities, Aboriginal people or people with disabilities aren’t in their circles, they lose out.[/quote]

While the report indicates that the majority of directors surveyed believed diversity was important on boards, it also stated that many groups feel they are already diverse, and only a quarter of the boards in most industries have diversity policies in place. This, of course, is indicative of a broad definition of diversity. It seems the boards studied have substantial diversity in areas of expertise and education, moderate levels of diversity in areas of age, gender and geographic location, but are significantly lacking in areas of diversity relating to visible minority and Aboriginal populations and those with disabilities. 

Part of the underlying problem – when board members retire or step down, the remaining members tend to look to personal circles to fill the positions, and well, if visible minorities, Aboriginal people or people with disabilities aren’t in their circles, they lose out. The CBDC has put together a database, Diversity 50, to help counter this. The database, which now has 150 individuals listed, includes the names and faces of eligible board members. Come this time next year, we will see if the database effectively helps more visible minorities into those board seats, or not.

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Published in Top Stories
By Ranjit Bhaskar
With the labour market becoming the main driver for Canadian immigration, attempts to label immigrant groups as “good” and “bad” based on their economic viability is a troubling trend.
This was the main crux of the conversation initiated by Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at a recent Couchiching Institute event hosted by Samara and the Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto.
“Canadians should not be buying into this ‘model’ immigrant racial stereotyping and young millennials amongst us should be at the fore front of this push back,” said the activist councillor, whose Ward 27 is a snapshot of Toronto’s demographic diversity. “Instead of competing to be the most-educated baristas and merely clicking at ‘like’ icons and signing petitions, millennials should end their self-inflicted disenfranchisement and access the political podium.”
Referring to the Trudeau-era immigration policies that helped codify inclusive political and social awareness, Ms. Wong-Tam was alarmed by the slew of rapid changes made by the Conservative government to regulate the flow of migrants. “These are regressive changes that peel away rights with surgical precision,” she said. “The rules are more stratified than ever before and we are on dangerous ground.”
Recent changes include an increase in Temporary Foreign Workers; reductions in the number of government sponsored refugees; and a shift away from family reunification policies. For a telling example of the speed with which they come into force, the number of operational bulletins released by Citizenship and Immigrations Canada is an eye-opener. In 2007, it released nine bulletins. In 2012, it released 94.
‘Corporate-sanctioned narratives’
During the conversation, concerns were raised about more drastic changes with the introduction of the Expression of Interest System that would let employers cherry-pick skilled immigrants from a pool of pre-screened
candidates. Tabling his annual report to the Parliament on Monday, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said the system is to start on January 1, 2015.
Ms. Wong-Tam said as Canadians we cannot be honest to ourselves as an immigrant nation if we do not see through the insidious nature of these corporate-sanctioned narratives. “Although we are more connected and engaged in our conversations, there is less and less of political content,” bemoaned Ms. Wong-Tam who was quick to clarify in a lighter vein that she should not be mistaken for a “left-wing, latte-sipping, pinko.”
On the influence selective immigrant policies have on the ethnic voting bloc, the councillor said while those who found refuge in Canada would be eternally grateful to late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal Party’s advantage with new Canadians has eroded as their vote in the Greater Toronto Area helped the Conservatives win the 2011 elections.
As a politician of Chinese heritage, Ms. Wong-Tam said she too was partly to be blamed for “creating a monster” by swinging the community vote in the favour of the ruling party based on the government’s apology for past injustices inflicted by the infamous head tax rule. “The Conservatives went on an apology tour to buy goodwill from various ethnic groups,” she said, adding “how we undo the damage we bought on ourselves” is a question for ethnic communities to ponder on.
Describing herself as a humanist, Ms. Wong-Tam suggested that secular Canadians should not hesitate to seek out faith leaders to “change the channel”. She said we can learn from the Americans who have inherited the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement that easily brings together religious institutions and labour unions for positive social change. – New Canadian Media
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Published in Policy
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:55

New Canadians pushed to edges of the economy

by Ranjit Bhaskar
Social mobility, access to opportunity and fairness are foundational principles of Canadian society.
Sold on these ideals, immigrants arrive ready to thrive. Instead most struggle to survive as they find themselves shut out of the formal economy.
Faced with such exclusion, many are forced to find precarious jobs in the informal economy, says the latest study on the poor labour market outcomes faced by new immigrants. The Shadow Economies report released in Toronto on Tuesday attempts to throw more light on the dark underbelly of the city’s economy that is mostly invisible.
It puts a human face to an issue that is often talked in terms of the money it hides. Statistics Canada pegged the country's underground economy at up to $36-billion as of 2008.
A collaborative effort by east-end Toronto community service groups, the report moves past anecdotal stories to document the stark realities newcomers face. “Ours is the first Canadian ground-level examination of the topic to take a look at the hard numbers of the informal economy,” said Diane Dyson, the report’s co-author. “What we found was worse than what we expected. Instead of resilience, we found poverty.”
Poverty, in all its complexity, is a central theme in the findings of this report funded by the Wellesley Institute. It builds on earlier studies which looked at the dynamics of growing segregation of neighbourhoods by income bracket and the social networks that connect or isolate residents from the wider community.
Based on a survey of 450 immigrants, the researchers found only three per cent of respondents were still working in the professional occupations they were in before coming here.  Unemployment levels were very high with an average of 23 per cent compared to the Canadian average of three per cent. Only one-third of households reported being able to fully cover their household expenses on income earned through formal employment and 42 per cent of those engaged in informal economic activities earned less than $10,000 annually from them.
“If I knew the situation here ... I wouldn’t have applied to immigrate to Canada. I had a good job.
When they interviewed me at the visa office, I showed them my credentials, diplomas and my
experience. They were so nice. They never told me that they weren’t going to be recognized in
Canada,” said a respondent to the survey.
The report sits at the intersection of a number of complex issues: growing inequality, the spread of poverty and its concentration among immigrant and racialized populations, the changing shape of the labour force and the growth of employment precariousness, the debates over immigration classes (economic, family, refugee, temporary and undocumented), cultural diversity and immigrant settlement, the underground economy and tax avoidance.
Few ways out
“Immigrants who came through the front door, find they are not welcome and often settle for low wage ‘survival jobs’,” said Dyson. “Their Canadian dreams are quickly broken once they arrive.”
While the researchers expected discussions on credentialing processes, career ladders, and employment opportunities in their attempt to know how newcomers are coping, what they heard were stories of deadening isolation, unrestricted exploitation, exasperation, and dead ends with few ways of finding a bridge out of it.
Even their own ethnic communities in which they hope to find succour become entrapments rather than stepping stones. Consistent with other research, the study found that newcomers could not always rely on their ethnic groups for help in finding a good job. Those immigrants with fewer English-language skills could find needed supports, or, as easily, be taken advantage of within their own communities.
“As Canadians, we must be aware of the effects of these wider forces, especially on the most vulnerable and who have fewer choices. Even the wider protective effects of higher education do not shield against the structural discrimination that confines many immigrants to poor jobs,” said Dyson.
While the study did find some bright spots of mutual support, free enterprise, inspiration and new beginnings, the harsh reality is that many newcomers are working without the legislated protections which are intended to be universal minimum standards for all.
The study recommends that part of the solution will be to make explicit how regular employment is more profitable on both a personal and societal level and how one can claim one’s employment rights. However, a stronger underpinning has to be systemic enforcement, so that employers do not resort to an easy source of trouble-free, cheap labour and so that the most vulnerable among us are not left working without protection.
Dyson alluded to a separate country forming out there. The very “kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries” the government is keen to avoid. -- New Canadian Media
Published in Economy
Monday, 22 April 2013 23:48

The citizenship-volunteer connection



by Gillian Smith

This week marks National Volunteer Week, the perfect time to highlight the connection between volunteerism and citizenship.

As the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s (ICC) Executive Director, I’m equally passionate about citizenship and volunteerism because citizenship is the most important thing Canadians share, and each volunteer effort (big or small) made by citizens strengthens communities, building a better country.

 All Canadians have a responsibility to be active, engaged citizens, but many of us aren’t sure how to do it; this is understandable because for most, the concept of citizenship isn’t top of mind. Take a moment to ask yourself - when was the last time you thought about what you do to be a good citizen?

Most Canadians automatically associate being a good citizen with legal responsibilities: obeying the law, paying taxes and voting. Although these are undeniably important, much more is involved.

Last year, the ICC collaborated on Canadians on Citizenship, a national survey asking what it means to be a good citizen in Canada. The responses revealed that Canadians also see giving back to one’s community, civic participation and respecting and accepting difference as vital measures of a citizen. These findings position citizenship in a more tangible, relatable way: citizenship is a series of everyday acts that contribute to the life of a community and to our country. 

What’s more, Canadians on Citizenship demonstrated that not only is this textured understanding held by all residents of this country, but we all believe that everyone can be a good citizen, regardless of whether your family has been here for four months or 400 years.

Volunteerism is how every Canadian can live up to the challenge of being an active citizen. When you give time, talent or treasure, your actions benefit your community and create a ripple effect that reinforces our country’s overall capacity to accept and include.

Added to the challenge of active citizenship, Canada’s demographics are changing, and changing fast. Did you know that, today, our labour force would shrink without new Canadians joining the ranks? Or that by 2030 – at the latest – Canada’s net population growth will rely solely on immigration?

These facts are crucial when considering the future of volunteerism. Who will be our future givers?

Citizenship is the uniting common denominator and volunteerism is a means to connect Canadians and build a stronger Canada.

If we don’t act now to create an inclusive, welcoming space that allows everyone to fully participate, we risk harming the foundations of our stable, successful society. We must get involved in our communities and embrace our roles as active, engaged citizens.

This is the citizenship-volunteer connection, and how we can ensure our great country grows ever stronger.

Gillian Smith is the Executive Director & CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. To learn more about the Institute for Canadian Citizenship visit You can also follow them on Twitter, @ICCICC.


Published in Commentary
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