May 23, 2014 4:33 pm

Ontario election: Think candidate plans can fix job crisis? Think again

Watch above: Would candidates’ platforms address Ontario’s employment crisis?

Ray Smith has been out of work for a year.

He’s blind in one eye and 90% blind in the other. On rare occasion he manages to complete what for him is an often inaccessible, difficult online application process and is rewarded with a face-to-face interview. But he knows his disability scares employers away.

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Golam Ahmed has an MBA and no job. He has no job, interviewers tell him, because he lacks Canadian experience; and eight months after arriving in Toronto from Bangladesh, he’s had no chance to earn that desired commodity because few will give him a chance.

Ontario’s employment crisis is far more complex than the candidates campaigning for your vote make it seem. While all three parties – the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats – have pledged rosy job creating strategies with specific numbers attached, the solution to what’s plaguing the province’s labour market is not so simple.

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Young people can’t find work – neither can new Canadians, those with disabilities, or older workers whose industries have been victimized by change.

And years after the recession ended, the ranks of the long-term unemployed whose connections and skills have grown stale grow.

The new jobs the province is creating aren’t nearly as good as the ones being lost: There’s an increasing number of part-time, temporary work that leaves employees juggling multiple jobs just to pay the bills. And not having benefits means living with a precarity that hurts not only their economy-lifting consumer spending but their health as well.

Long-term unemployment can “cause stress, disrupt sleep patterns, trigger or exacerbate depression and has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease,” says Chandrakant Shah, a professor at the University of Toronto who has studied the impacts of unemployment on human health.

As of April there were 550,000 Ontarians looking for work. And while the province’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since December, 2008, the percentage of the working-age population either working or looking for work is at its lowest point this millennium.

In the meantime, the province is replacing lost full-time jobs with part-time ones that pay less.

Last year, 421,000 Ontarians said they were working part-time not by choice, but because they couldn’t find full-time work. More than half had  stopped looking.

The hourly wage disparity is also massive: The median non-unionized temporary worker in Ontario earned $13 an hour in April compared with $20 an hour for the median permanent worker. The gap is far wider if you include unionized employees, who make significantly more.

And while Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath have all promised that the jobs their policies will create will be full-time ones, it isn’t clear how that will happen, nor is it certain how they’ll target those most in need of work.

READ MORE: Okay, really: Can politicians create jobs?

For 12 years, Smith, who lives in Ajax, worked at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board doing community outreach. He was laid off during restructuring last May.

Though he’s still on salary continuance, he’s terrified of going on EI once his continuance runs dry at the end of June.

“I’ve never been on EI before,” Smith said. “I’ve never been on ODSP.”

Ray_Smith_UW

Smith is getting help from the Durham Region Employment Network, but he’s disappointed none of the candidates have addressed the hurdles unique to his situation.

“I haven’t been able to apply for around 20 jobs because of this. We’re competing with able-bodied job seekers. We are left out to fend for ourselves. No party has highlighted this issue,” he said.

“It will be even harder for people with disabilities to get a job as there will be so much more competition for them.”

People with disabilities are about twice as likely to be unemployed relative to their able-bodied counterparts and make around 65 cents less on the dollar.

 

The Tories have pledged to get more people with disabilities into jobs through post-secondary education and better connections with employers.

The Liberals have promised to invest $810 million in the community and developmental services sector over the next three years.

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When Ahmed came to Canada from  Bangladesh last November, he figured he was prepared. In the years he’d spent waiting for his paperwork to be approved, he researched Canada’s labour market and any additional credentials he would need.

He even – believe it or not – likes Winter.

TH_RAW GOLAM AHMED 4 ONLINE-STILL FRAME

He figures he’s applied for around 30 jobs, and received callbacks from three employers. In the meantime, he’s watched his savings evaporate.

“It’s definitely not a pleasant experience,” he said. “My present focus is working in the financial services industry, so there they need someone with experience working in Canada with clients. So far, it has been tough.”

For now he’s volunteering, working for free to gain that valuable experience and receiving assistance from government funded employment agencies such as ACCESS Employment.

But it’s not just a hit to Ahmed’s pocketbook.

“The cost of the non-recognition of learning (of all Canadians, but primarily immigrants) cost the Canadian economy $4.1 – 5.9 billion in 2001. In 2014 dollars, that translates to $5.3 – 7.6 billion,” says Michelle Parkouda, Senior Research Associate with The Conference Board of Canada.

Parkouda says around 40% of recent immigrants working in regulated professions report difficulties in getting their credentials recognized.

The Liberals have been pushing Ottawa for more say in attracting skilled immigrants to the province and have said they’ll continue funding hundreds of bridging programs meant to help people with foreign credentials.

The Progressive Conservatives have pledged to expand “proven initiatives that match job-ready new Canadians with skills-hungry Ontario employer,” but couldn’t elaborate on the details.

For many, however, until specifics are outlined and barriers are removed the promises of job creation still ring hollow.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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