and Labrador, in April 2013, boasted an unadjusted 13.7% unemployment rate. 13.7%
of NL’s workforce represents 32,700 people. By any measure, it is far too many in
an economy, which the Premier boasts, is ‘white hot’.
that they can’t find adequate labour, is supported with the existence of 1600
vacancies, again an April figure. One indicator of problems, in the job market,
is the ratio of unemployed persons to the number of job vacancies, at least, officially. In Nova Scotia it is 12.3, in New Brunswick 15.5,
the Canadian average is 6.5; in NL the ratio is 20.9!
ratio of available labour to job openings.
It should get noticed.
of course, is that NL’s unemployment statistics are exaggerated by groups of aging
workers and fisher people. Many live in remote communities whose only raison
d’etre, was and still is, harvesting the sea.
The ground fishery is barely standing, a situation compounded by limited allocations, competition
from Chinese wages and the migration of young people to growth centers. Fisher
people must feel marooned, cut-off, not just from employment but from influence
on public policy, as they once had.
will debate Newfoundland’s inability to maintain a fish company of
international size and brand power; for the present, however, we ought to pay
deference to aging fisher people who still try and cling to the only work most
of them know.
months ago a furor broke out in the House of Commons over a “crackdown on EI
claimants that includes sending government inspectors to people’s homes…” The
Federal Human Resources Minister had to defend herself against charges, by
Union leaders and Opposition politicians, who accused her of “treating the
unemployed like criminals”. Cries of derision greeted the Open Line Shows and
someone would deliberately rip off the EI system! As if the public purse is
inviolate to everyone, except Senators.
impact of the EI changes, which make it more difficult for people to refuse
work, requiring them to travel up to 100 KM. “You can’t look at someone
who is unemployed as a problem,” said the Archbishop of St. John’s, Martin
Currie. As if the issue were really that black and
groups, the Churches were playing it safe on EI, offering no distinction between
the various groups of unemployed and why they are not working, especially those
living on the “white hot” Northeast Avalon.
admittedly, there are issues of skills matching, that is only part of the problem. The truth is, the EI issue says far more
about the state of our politics than any issue of EI eligibility. Politics is
not just played by governments and political parties; just about every group,
these days, churches, unions, perhaps even the bake sale committee, feel a
sense of self-righteousness. They are
scared they will be out of step with any group thought competent in matters of
these groups see it, having to distinguish between eligibility and what has
become ‘entitlement’, is fraught with risk, so why bother. And, anyway, the
claims come out of some miraculous pot! It doesn’t cost us anything, does it!
big leap to differentiate between one group of unemployed, whose remote rural
and age characteristics and skills challenges are distinctly different from
those of a younger, more urbanized group, who enjoy health and accessibility to
job openings. But, interest groups won’t
go down that road; they might muddy a protected position, they might compromise
a safe constituency. Can’t have that, can we!
business types complain, few talk publicly about those who refuse lower wage jobs,
even when they offer well above the minimum wage.
governments have corrupted EI policies, for years. They have invented additional qualifying
weeks. They have used the EI system to
shore up the votes of seasonal workers. After
four decades of engaging in unbridled abuse and maiming the very purpose for
which the system was established, EI ‘entitlement’ has become broadly cultural.
have behaved so badly, and the constituency of EI users is so large, any
attempt to plug the system’s most egregious shortcomings, has to be opposed.
political parties, churches and unions, any fix is a flag to claim some moral
high ground. They would rather overlook
abuse, watch the sense of entitlement grow, and see foreign labourers eagerly sign
on to perform work, locals should be doing.
more aspect to this problem, to which the self-righteous are blind. It is this:
older, rural fisher people are being used, as cover, to stymy much needed
change. Though they are largely disenfranchised
from influence now, that very group may have a far greater claim to better
benefits; but they can’t be heard.
The thunder of the self-righteous perpetuates a system, in which they
are forced to share with those who can’t get their asses out of bed.
public policy ought to trump self-interest and protect the public purse from a
system that is flawed. EI is only,
euphemistically, an ‘insurance’ program; but it shouldn’t be. It needs to be re-invented in a way that punishes
frequent users in locations, where jobs are available. It should also recognize
aging fisher persons and give them the dignity they are due. And, yes, it should be calculated to force
the hangashores out of bed.
foreign workers are welcome, an activist approach to getting healthy people off
their fannies should be a priority for any society worth its salt. EI ‘inspectors’ are one thing, but some
better public policy supported by the very groups, who now oppose such change, would
be an even better beginning.
the self-righteous recognized that there is virtue in self-reliance.