Tag Archives: Canada

(313) Internal economics

tumblr_mf8ygfCJsj1qc0pgeo1_1280Internships have become a fixture of the economy.  Asking around about the value of working without pay in order to get some real world currency with employers is to solicit decidedly mixed responses.  Descriptors range from “worthless” to “depressing” and “annoying bullshit” to “it saved my life”.  Where is the truth we might wonder at a time when the employment prospects for youth seem as difficult as ever?  We are told with religious certainty that maximum education is required for success in the new workplace and being an intern is therefore to be embraced.  Young people often serve more than one and yet the internship, for many, is just another stretch on the road to nowhere, a feature of underemployment and poverty.

The downside of interning has struggled to emerge within the story of work and employment as it has come to be known since the 1980s.  The mythology of internship remains strong, in part, because there are success stories.  So, what of the time-wasting, depressing, free-lunch-for-business critique of interning?  Well, it’s becoming especially important now that legalistic arguments are being advanced that large-scale use of interns may actually be illegal, not just morally iffy, but contrary to reasonable expectations of the social conduct of business and government?

Canada appears to be catching up to the States and the UK where the negative take on interning is a much more evolved and visible story, and has been for a while.  The University of Toronto Student Union spoke up this week on behalf of some 300,000 unpaid interns across the country in nearly every kind of industry, taking a position that such internships are exploitve.  UTSU’s letter to Ontario’s Minister of Labour received a mediocre response from that office and seems to have been pushed out of the media by the Boston attacks.

Letter to Yasir Naqvi from UTSU regarding unpaid internships

Coincidentally, a social media/brand management firm in British Columbia called HootSuite has been so embarrassed, in the online world in particular, at the backlash against its use of unpaid interns it has stopped the practice and going forward will pay interns.  Clearly, their interns have been doing something of monetary value and their lawyers must have told them there is merit, and therefore risk to HootSuite, in the argument that interning is illegal.

Unpaid HootSuite interns get back pay itworldcanada.com

The book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin made a project of understanding internships in the United States and is brutal reading.  Perlin allows for the potential value of interning, offers numerous solutions but finds too many things wrong with the phenomenon for it to remain the way it is.  He sets out the scale, meaning and implications of what has become a social norm.

These are not your father’s internships Ross Perlin 2012 NYT opinion piece

Ross Perlin speaking at Google headquarters 2011 
58:17

In the UK we find an ongoing legal case in which a 24-year-old museum volunteer, Caitt Reilly, receiving a job seeker’s benefit was required to work without wages at a retail chain called Poundland, British equivalent of a dollar store.  Ms. Reilly is part of a challenge to the legislation requiring unpaid commerical work for social welfare benefits mounted in the courts.  Her example has stirred a large amount of emotion and the government was compelled to amend a bill in parliament to prevent back pay being given to those in unpaid-work-for-benefit situations like Ms. Reilly’s.
For many observers her case speaks to the miserable nature of the current coalition government steering the UK towards austerity and seeming to lack any other idea beyond cutbacks to public programs and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Poundland ruling ‘blows big hole’ through government work schemes
guardian.co.uk – see video, other links & comments section

International Lessons: youth unemployment in the global context
53-page .pdf version of a January 2013 report from Lancaster University’s Work Foundation which finds the UK comparing poorly to, yes, you guessed it, Germany when it comes to moving young people from education to employment.

image: Wikimedia Commons

(310) Love your local bus!

Pentagon bus_tifIn his weekly column on TruthDig Chris Hedges shares findings regarding the privatization of public transit in the United States and also in Canada where it is approaching like a bus with a cracked frame, no brakes, and a driver who has fallen asleep because he has to do a hundred hours a week behind the wheel to get by.

The column was read with interest at this blog where public transit fills the view finder as a primary feature of suburban poverty.  A feature that is hardly addressed by corporate power and abuse.  And how else to describe the accidents, declining service, rising fares, poor wages, long hours and huge profits that are part of a picture of privatized, globally-owned, anti-union bus and transit systems?

Sweatshops on wheels

image: Pentagon-bound GMC bus in Washington, DC in the 1970s by YR Okamoto via Wikimedia Commons/NARA

(308) Royal what?

Royal_Bank_Building Toronto“That’s not what we’re doing.”

“What we are doing is perfectly legal.”

“We’re sorry.”

That’s pretty much how one of Canada’s largest, richest businesses responded to a burst of public outrage over what it thought would be a run-of-the-mill outsourcing of 45 Toronto-based IT employees to an Indian firm called iGate.  Could it be that Canadians are waking up to corporate power and abuse?

RBC can hardly cry poverty, they are a profitable bank capitalized at something like eighty billion dollars, so to get caught dismissing established employees to make use of a temporary worker program that allows for fifteen percent lower wages is a public relations disaster.  A turn that squanders a lot of the moral capital the bank shared with the rest of the sector for not having dumped Canadians into a sub-prime mortgage or bailout nightmare like their risk-worshipping British and American cousins came up with.

Also tough are the wider questions raised.  The list of major businesses lined up for the temporary worker program includes some of the most recognized names in the Canadian corporate caravan.  For example, Tim Hortons, the inescapable coffee shop so beloved of Canada’s working- and wish-they-were-working-class is on the list for the program.

The mass media has picked up the public’s indignation and the story seems to have legs, despite RBCs damage control effort via full-page print ads in major newspapers and online.  If all the cranky comments and Facebook flutter translates into closed accounts, loss of transaction fees and the like then this might be a learning moment for management and the board of the bank.  Certainly, Mr. Nixon, President and CEO of the bank, can’t have enjoyed the last week or so very much.  It isn’t in the selfish self interest of the bank to have a precarious, underpaid workforce and alienated customers.

Perhaps the public has learned something about the vulnerability of Canada’s massive and historically well-protected banks.  After two centuries of building profitable businesses in the second largest country in the world and emerging as global players the brand of Canada’s banking sector is perhaps more fragile than it realized.  The leverage of the public when it comes to modifiying the harmful behaviour of the banks has been glimpsed this week.  For the record, RBC puts its transaction fees up recently.

Labour groups have expressed doubt about the temporary worker program since it got going.  Unions are threatened in an economy based on flexible labour.  Additionally, word is not very good on the program from the workers inside it.  The whole deal says exploitation.  Conservative commentators like Andrew Coyne and Terence Corcoran are all over this controversy in their columns as an overblown emotional diversion which does a disservice to corporate Canada in its efforts to be its best possible self.  Such daring contrarians!

Corporate power and abuse like this, sanctioned by Ottawa, supports suburban poverty.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Greater Toronto Area, where the outsourcing was planned to take place, has a slightly higher rate of unemployment than the country at large, RBC is in the black and has paid out record bonuses in recent times.

Good work RBC!

Outsource Canada “I spent two days on this site!” matches the number of foreign workers in each province with the number of unemployed there.

Huffington Post Canada has added the RBC outsourcing fiasco to its ongoing coverage of middle class decline.
Temporary Insanity: RBC vs Canada’s middle class

RBC’s CEO Isn’t the Only Boss With an Obscene Salary

image: Siqbal via Wikimedia Commons

(307) Changing numbers in Peel

Cryptanalytic_BombeThe trend for Peel Region is towards suburban poverty.  Recent numbers collected by an ongoing effort to assess social conditions in Canada at University of Toronto provide the story.  Decline in real incomes, growth in accommodation costs, rising car-related expenses like gas and insurance and a weakened picture for employment have moved many into poverty despite continued population growth and the vast sums invested in the artefacts of sprawl (roads, houses, commercial strips).

Peel seems to be developing a pinched class where once there was a middle class.  Growth in population appears to be stressing social services and draining prosperity.  “In 1980, Peel had just two low-income neighbourhoods. Three decades later, 45 per cent of neighbourhoods were considered low-income or very low-income, nearly the same proportion as in the city of Toronto,” says a recent item on the large, suburban area immediately west of Toronto, linked below.

This must be tough to swallow in a place that prided itself on growth, was a vast construction site for decades, where it seems like the 80s never ended if you were a property speculator, a builder or a municipal bureaucrat.  The elected representatives in the communities making up Peel region tend toward conservatism and have not begun to strategize for the future.  The two large city governments within Peel, Mississauga and Brampton, are at odds with each other regarding the formulas used to determine their share of regional spending.  Mississauga’s mayor, facing a renewed legal approach in regard to conflict of interest with the development industry, is in her nineties now and will leave behind a dysfunctional and underachieving city council when she leaves office shortly.  Brampton presents a very mixed picture as well.

Low crime rates in Peel are appreciated by its residents.  The place is neither Bangladesh nor Detroit.  A big, expensive, impressive plan for light rail transit for Highway 10 is on the books, too.  But…

…a lack of political imagination has helped build the present in Peel Region, as surely as any demographic development.  The faster a relationship is discovered with the former the sooner those demographic developments can be responded to in a meaningful way and bigger problems ameliorated.  The political culture of easy income through rubber stamping development permits won’t be put to rest without pain we suspect.  So, expect more findings like the ones in this article.

Peel changes as poverty moves into middle-class suburbia

photo: Cryptanalysis computer in the 1940s taken by J Brew via Wikimedia Commons

(304) Guns are classy in Toronto

BulletAcademic and social observer Richard Florida writes in the Star that gun crime in Toronto seems to map to class and cultural environments in a disturbingly close fashion.  If you are in North America’s fourth largest city (the GTA edged out Chicago for that spot in terms of population just recently) try to hang around the green zone, where Florida’s so-called creative class live.  Florida says,  ” …the recent uptick in gun violence in Toronto mirrors the same fault-lines of economic and social disadvantage that exist in U.S. cities.”  In terms of actual numbers of people killed by guns Toronto still remains remarkably safe, having only about a tenth of the firearm homicides of Chicago, according to statistics in the article.  Those in the green part of the map are protected from gun violence because they are educated, economically connected, properly employed people.  Florida points out that because gun violence is something happening to other people somewhere else, many a privileged Torontonian seems quite complacent about it.  Removal of barriers to  “living green,” as it were, is essential to eliminating gun violence and protecting the total quality of life in the city.

…look at all the dots on the map accompanying the piece indicating a gun murder in a suburban location.

Guns and class in Toronto: the vast majority of Toronto’s gun murders since 2000 took place where members of the service and working class live  

image: 1888 photo of a bullet in flight taken by Ernst Mach via Wikimedia Commons

(301) Ho$pital parking

hospital parkingCBC’s Marketplace program reports that a survey of more than a thousand Canadians indicated that the cost of parking a motor vehicle at a hospital adds stress and cost to being sick.  If you have any kind of experience of chronic illness requiring multiple visits to the hospital you’ll know how the cost of parking is quickly added to the logistics for patients, visitors, family, volunteers.  Twenty dollars for parking is not unusual at big hopsitals hungry for revenue.  Medical professionals suggest parking costs are a tax, which raises moral issues.  In barely a week over 1500 comments appeared on the cbc.ca page for the segment!  Other news outlets have picked up this story, and acknowledge its emotional dimension.

Marketplace’s cameras went to Mississauga’s Credit Valley Hospital where we see walkers wiping out on ice while approaching a hospital that would charge them $16 or more for a visit.  Another woman drops her kids off first and then parks at a nearby mall and walks over.

Hospital parking rates a ‘tax’ on sick Canadians

Hospital parking pain Marketplace 22:16

(297) Not rocket science [Report]

V-2 and MeillerwagenCanadians have been watching right-to-work developments in Wisconsin and Michigan for the last couple of years.  In those states and at home such packages of legislation are dear to neoconservative hearts and unfortunately are proving effective at putting downward pressure on wages and undermining unions.  Something like 200 laws restrictive to labour rights have been passed in Canada in nearly every province and by the federal government since the early 1980s.  The resultant discouragement of unions has contributed to rising inequality and given Canada a large volume of complaints regarding restricted union rights at the International Labour Organization.

Such developments are the topic of a labour conference held this week in Toronto and a new research report from the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights.  CFLR is an agency of the National Union of Public and General Employees which has 340,000 members.  The report is strong on the details of why we need to reexamine legislation that has an unhealthy effect on our society.  Inequality is a known negative social development and it has come to define this era for so many.

Less rights, lower wages and benefits result in anti-social situations.  No, not exactly rocket science.

Unions Matter: How the Ability of Labour Unions to Reduce Income Inequality and Influence Public Policy has been affected by Regressive Labour Laws
21-page .pdf copy of report

image: V-2 rocket on trailer, IWM via Wikimedia Commons

(296) Minimum wage: medicine wage [Report]

Both_Cabinet_Respirator_in_WWIIAbout this time last year the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario published a report called Advocating for Vibrant Communities.  The document acted in part as briefing notes for submission to the provincial government representing the wisdom of nurses when it comes to social conditions and health.  The nurses called for an increase to the minimum wage in 2011 because they see a direct relationship between bad health and social difficulty.  The report helps to demolish arguments about the alleged immediate negative effects of increases to the minimum wage.  When it comes to health and poverty we can pay now or pay later.  Really, who is going to stand up and argue this one with nurses?

Advocating for vibrant communities 52-page .pdf file

image: AJ Faithful/Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia Commons

(295) Ontario minimum wage

nothing 2 fear from fairnessWith a new premier installed as leader of a party that is making the electorate and  the opposition a little restive there might be opportunity for Ontarians to see an increase in minimum wage.  This item from left-of-centre magazine Rabble makes the case for the economic benefits of a raise to $11.75 per hour from the current minimum of $10.25 per hour.

Boost the minimum wage, boost the economy

A coalition of labour and anti-poverty groups are saying $14.00 per hour is more like a living wage.  With over half a million workers in Ontario trying to provide for themselves on the present minimum wage you could expect resisting any increase to be a vote loser for any premier.

Action now to raise Ontario’s minimum wage acorncanada.ca

Counter-arguments to minimum wage increases are typically about the damage done to small businesses, prices and competitiveness.  End-of-the-world stuff.

That makes the clear enunciation of arguments in favour of better wages in terms of economic benefit welcome and useful.  The minimum wage in Ontario was first introduced back in the 1970s.  When you adjust the current minimum wage for inflation and currency fluctuation you find it to be worth just over $2.00 per hour.  In other words, it’s the same as it was a middle-aged person’s lifetime ago.  What else is?  The price of clothing, gas, electricity, a haircut, a bus ticket, food, rent?  No, they have all risen.  If there is disinterest in the moral argument for living wages in certain quarters then perhaps the economic case needs to be made more often …and more forcefully.

This last link is to a piece in the New Yorker that reflects on the situation in the United States regarding minimum wage and includes a few really interesting links to external references.  President Obama thought enough of the issue to include it in his last state of the union address.  It isn’t like he has turned out to be an anti-business president.  American minimum wages are even lower than those in Canada.

The case for a higher minimum wage newyorker.com

Hopefully Kathleen Wynn, Ontario’s new premier is open to increasing her literacy in the minimum wage vs living wage debate and will support lifting up the level of survival of working people in her province.

See also: (288) Living wages