QUEBEC CITY – When Nalawaetage Pinto moved to Canada from Sri Lanka 22 years ago, he imagined a better life with opportunity and financial security.
“We want professional jobs. We want to learn. We need a good salary to live a good life. Canada was before my dream, but it never come true, this dream,” Pinto said.
Not unlike many immigrants with education or technical certificates, Pinto has never been able to find work in his field.
“I worked at bakeries, hotels, many places, factories and all are minimum wages,” he explained.
He’s concerned his struggle will become the reality for thousands of Quebecers on social assistance if the provincial government passes its new “workfare” legislation.
Bill 70 aims to encourage people on social aid to join programs and find a job.
“Each year, we have around 17,000 new arrivals on social welfare and the majority of these people are young,” said Quebec Labour Minister, Sam Hamad.
But Bill 70 threatens to cut welfare benefits in half if recipients refuse to work or study.
“When the society is going to be putting money on the table, we’re taking care of these young people, we’re asking these young people to be responsible,” Hamad said.
However, critics insisted the legislation ignores the complexities of poverty.
“It’s a direct attack against human rights,” said Émilie Joly with the Coalition Objectif Dignité.
Members from dozens of community organizations that make up the coalition protested outside the National Assembly Wednesday afternoon.
They insisted similar laws in other countries have been ineffective.
“That really didn’t get people back to work. What it did was brought them to part time work, crazy schedules, night shifts and mostly minimum wage work that was very volatile,” Joly said.
She added working for low wages or being routinely laid off doesn’t help people break free of poverty.
The Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM) is a community organisation searching for better solutions to poverty.
It claims welfare cheques already barely provide enough for people to survive.
“We have to find better ways to get out of this situation,” said Bernard St-Jacques, a community organiser for RAPSIM.
He said it’s very difficult for people on welfare to get stable jobs as they already have many, other problems to deal with.
“These projects of employment should be different when talking with people in situations of exclusion,” he said.
“People with mental or physical health problems, we have to find another way to get them in a situation of employment.”
The problem with Bill 70, St-Jacques said, is that it puts a stop to individual progress by forcing people into job searches.
“With this Liberal government, it’s ‘you have to find a job now’…the program is very restrictive.” he said.
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