A troubling look at the struggles of older immigrant workers has spurred researchers at Ryerson University and labour advocates to push for some big changes from Queen’s Park.
The Centre for Labour Management Relations at Ryerson released a case study Tuesday investigating the aftershock of a large manufacturing plant closing in Toronto. The study included several recommendations for legislative changes the researchers believe would protect similar workers in the future.
These include raising the minimum wage to $14 an hour from $10.25, lowering employment insurance eligibility criteria, and creating a bridging program to help older workers connect with employers after receiving new training.
The study focused on a small sample of 78 of the 2,400 workers who lost their jobs when Progressive Moulded Products in Vaughan filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors in 2008. Of those 78, only one-third have secured permanent full-time employment of 25 or more hours a week.
Most of the workers, 77 per cent, were earning lower wages than at PMP – as much as $5 less an hour. Forty of the participants completed Second Career training – a provincial government initiative providing training for Ontarians who have been laid off. But of those 40, only 25 per cent found employment as a result of the training. The rest are either still working in manufacturing or not working at all. Almost 70 per cent cited discrimination as a barrier to finding work, including age, race and language discrimination, the study found.
Many of the struggles faced by these workers could be eased by improved legislation, according to Winnie Ng, lead researcher and Ryerson’s chair in social justice and democracy. She said the group faced challenges as both immigrants and older workers are trying to compete with young people in a competitive market. Even programs such as Second Career aren’t helping this demographic and they’re falling through the cracks, Ms. Ng said.
“They are too young to retire and yet not young enough to compete. Policy makers and government officials need to recognize that there are some special needs,” she said, citing a bridging program to bolster Second Career, or wage subsidies to encourage employers to give these workers a shot.
But after the 2013 Ontario budget was approved, including a freeze on minimum wage, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the province is focusing its efforts on stimulating the economy and there are no plans to increase the wage any time soon.
“Minimum wage is something we have acted upon since 2003. It was the lowest of all provinces throughout Canada and consecutively for seven or eight years,” Mr. Sousa said. “We kept increasing it and it became the highest in Canada. At that point, we took a pause, recognizing that we had a duty to stimulate economic growth as well.”
Gyula Kovacs, a representative for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said it has received the report and is in the process of studying it.
Along with financial costs, the study highlighted the mental and physical tolls of long-term unemployment or underemployment. Even of those who had found work, 59 per cent of participants reported being anxious about losing their job. Almost half of the workers cited their health had worsened since the closing.
One of the former workers, 41-year-old Fa Lim, immigrated to Canada from Cambodia at the age of 14. After PMP closed, Mr. Lim went through two rounds of training through Second Career, but still hasn’t been able to find full-time work. He’s currently going back to school for a third time.
“I feel very, very, very useless. That’s the simplest way I can explain it.”