T.O. Bleeding Manufacturing Jobs

T.O. bleeding manufacturing jobs

The Toronto Sun
January 27, 2008

Four years ago, Vushtaeheby Srishkandarajah and 15 co-workers were ushered into the cafeteria of a Toronto factory and laid off.

Srishkandarajah, who had been earning $9.50 an hour creating plastic display cases for lipsticks, blushes and other cosmetics, was ordered out of the Scarborough building without even being given time to collect her belongings.

“I was treated as a criminal,” she said through an interpreter. “You work there for two and a half years, this is the respect you get. All your time and your hard work doesn't count.

“There's no heart.”

Toronto's manufacturing jobs have declined by more than 20% in the past three years — an astounding erosion of 83,300 jobs, figures obtained from Statistics Canada show.

In fact, Toronto is bleeding manufacturing jobs at a faster rate than in the rest of the province. Ontario-wide, manufacturing job losses are down about 14% over the same time period.

There has been growth in low-paying service sector jobs, including work in doughnut shops and fast-food restaurants as well as growth in public and service sector jobs like government and education.But the burden in Toronto of manufacturing job losses has been borne in large part and silently by the newest immigrants, who once were able to depend on this kind of work to build a better life for their families.


Srishkandarajah has spent the years since her layoff both trying to recover economically and find steady, well-paying work.

Instead, like a growing number of manufacturing sector workers in this city and across the province, she's moved from one temp job to the next.

She's 64 years old with little in the way of pension, and thanks to years of sporadic work, retirement is the farthest thing from her mind.

The former teacher from Sri Lanka earns minimum wage at most of the jobs she does get. Holiday and vacation pay are a luxury that she doesn't enjoy and if she wants to work, she's got to be prepared to drop everything to hurry to a plant in any part of the city.

“I am waiting for the calls,” she said through an interpreter. “I can't plan anything. I am waiting on the phone every day,” she said.

Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), said such huge job losses would once have been treated as a national crisis. But workers “now carry much of the burden on their own,” he said. “It's completely restructured our economy — all of it hidden.”

Workers get absorbed into lower-paying service sector positions or land with temporary agencies where they can toil for years in a series of low-paying jobs without security or a pension, he said.

“There are more temp agencies in Canada than there are Tim Hortons,” said Samuelson, who came to the OFL from the BF Goodrich tire plant in Kitchener. It closed its doors in 2006 at a cost of 1,100 jobs.

If immigrants are bearing the brunt of job losses inside Toronto, outside the city it is the hockey-loving, minivan-driving, double double generation that is finding itself scrambling for work.

The traditional manufacturing sector in smaller and mid-sized cities is eroding rapidly and whole industries have rusted out in some parts of the province.

Since 2004, about 200,000 keep-your-kids-in-braces manufacturing jobs have been driven out of Ontario.

There are few if any communities with any kind of manufacturing base that haven't been hit.

Automotive parts manufacturer Collins and Aikman in Guelph recently closed its doors putting 510 people out of work.

And when NCR in Waterloo decided to outsource the manufacturing of bank machines last year, the honour of packing up the final machine odds and ends fell to the most senior workers there.

The parts, and their jobs, were bound for South Carolina.

Employees with a quarter century of experience clocked the final shift four days before Christmas, the last of 450 NCR workers laid off over a period of months.

“Everyone's glad that they had the chance to work there,” laid-off worker Jim Mills, 45, said. “Everyone's proud that they've been able to meet the company targets and keep the quality up. We don't want to be a bunch of whiners.”

There are several factors behind the jobs erosion, including the strong Canadian dollar (which makes our products more expensive for Americans to buy), expensive energy bills, high taxes, and growing competition from the ability of companies to outsource manufacturing to countries such as Mexico and China, where labour is cheap.

Meanwhile, as Canadian companies look for ways to trim costs or become more competitive, many are turning full-time factory and manufacturing jobs into temporary work.

Rick Moffitt, of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council, said studies show the average worker loses $10,000 a year when he or she moves from a manufacturing position to another job.

“We've had whole sectors of our economy wiped out,” Moffitt said. “People are taking really bad, low-paying jobs.”

Samuelson said he was told that in Windsor, where the auto sector has been slammed, that the unemployed have two options in front of them: “If they want to work, it's a choice between going to Afghanistan or Alberta.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty took time recently to pass on his sympathies to some of the workers who have lost their jobs.

“There's no doubt about it that we're having a challenging time for a particular group of workers in Ontario — those who are found within manufacturing,” McGuinty said. “My heart goes out to workers and their families.”

The premier said his government has helped set up job action centres for displaced workers, and provides an average of $12,000 and 22 weeks in training opportunities for each worker.

“There's no cap on the investment that we'll make into a worker who's lost his or her job,” McGuinty said. “But there is a cap on Employment Insurance benefits, which I think is unreasonable, which is something I talked to the prime minister about, and about which he is not inclined to reform even though there is a $54-billion Employment Insurance surplus.”


McGuinty has complained to the Stephen Harper government about what he sees as a bias against the unemployed Ontario worker who gets on average about $4,000 less from EI than citizens of other provinces, including Alberta.

Nor has Harper's government been receptive to date to partnering with the Ontario government's program of direct investment in companies that promise jobs.

Hundreds of millions of provincial tax dollars have poured into auto companies, and more will flow to pharmaceutical firms and hi-tech outfits through the government's Next Generation Job fund.

“We're going to sit down with Ford and talk about what we can do to incent new investment in Windsor, for example,” McGuinty said. “I'd love to have somebody from the federal government sit down and join with us in that regard.

“(Harper's) not prepared to do that. He told me very directly, 'Look I operate at the macro level, we'll cut taxes, maybe we'll offer some regional incentives, but we're not prepared to take it one step down.' ”

The latest noises out of Ottawa suggest the federal government may be rethinking its hands-off strategy in Windsor.

McGuinty is now openly speculating about creating provincial barriers to free trade with South Korea to give Ontario-made automakers equal access to that market — a move that would put the province on a collision course with the World Trade Organization.

The McGuinty strategy has its detractors.

Opposition leaders at Queen's Park have criticized the Liberal response to the manufacturing crisis as both slow and underwhelming.

Conservative Leader John Tory said the government has not dealt with the excessively high level of business tax and red tape in Ontario — the removal of which, he said, would help all businesses.

The government has not moved quickly enough to ensure a steady supply of nuclear-powered energy, or done enough to ease congestion at the border that delays the movement of goods, he said.

There are many examples of large companies choosing to close Ontario plants first, Tory said.

“There's where Mr. McGuinty just shrugs his shoulders and says 'That's not my job,' ” Tory said.

McGuinty has cautioned the public to keep all of this in perspective.

“Fifteen percent of Ontario jobs are found in manufacturing, 85% are, roughly-speaking, found in the services sector,” he said. “And it's not all of our manufacturing jobs.

“The folks who are working for the BlackBerry … there's about 6,000 of them, they're not at risk,” he said. “People in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, who are producing pills here, they're not at risk.”


NDP Leader Howard Hampton said McGuinty's assurances that the Ontario economy as a whole is doing well because service sector jobs are growing ignores the linchpin role that manufacturing plays in the province.

“Many regions are already in a recession and have been in a recession for some time,” Hampton said. “The Windsor-Chatham area has now the highest unemployment rate in all of Canada. All of Northern Ontario has essentially been in a recession for the last two years. The Niagara Peninsula has lost tens of thousands of jobs.”

The pain is now spreading through Guelph, Cambridge, Brantford and Oshawa, he said.

“One job in the auto sector engenders about six other jobs in the local economy,” Hampton said.

“So you lose 2,000 manufacturing jobs and the domino effect of service sector job loss will be huge.”

In Waterloo, Jim Mills said that about 15% of the laid-off NCR workers have found new jobs, some through temporary agencies, but usually at a lower rate of pay and with less attractive working conditions.

One female plant worker who landed a job has already been laid off again.

“It gets pretty demoralizing when you're in an election campaign and Mr. McGuinty's saying there's lots of high-paying jobs out there and everybody at work's saying, “Where are they?' ” Mills said.