POLITICS
02/19/2020 13:57 EST | Updated 02/19/2020 15:29 EST

Layoffs Loom As Ontario PCs Test Privatizing Job-Search Services

The Progressive Conservatives are handing over some employment services to a private company, a non-profit and a college.

Tijana Martin/Canadian Press
Monte McNaughton is sworn into his role as Ontario Minister of Labour at Queen's Park in Toronto on June 20, 2019.

TORONTO — At least one municipality is bracing for layoffs as the Ontario government hands over control of some employment services to a private company, a non-profit and a college.

The City of Brantford says it will lose $300,000 in funding this year and $1 million in 2021 because of Ontario’s employment services pilot project. 

“It will be necessary for the City to reduce staffing resources in response to this change,” Brantford spokesperson Maria Visocchi told HuffPost Canada by email Wednesday.

Right now, there are separate employment programs for jobseekers, people on Ontario Works and people on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The province is testing a new system that it says will bring these services together into a more efficient system.

Three “prototypes” for this new combined employment service are being developed to test in Hamilton-Niagara, Peel and Muskoka-Kawarthas starting in October 2020. 

Watch: These are the fastest-growing jobs in 2020. Story continues after video.

 

Some frontline workers who help unemployed people look for work have already been told to expect changes to salaries and benefits, said Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative for public workers who deliver social services. 

“With this twist, the government is basically doing the same restructuring that they have proposed in public health, as well as land ambulance services … A conglomerate is going to be at the centre of much bigger geographic regions that have no local political accountability to city council,” she told HuffPost. 

“Why that’s good enough for the people who are most vulnerable in this province is shameful.”

It’s unclear how many workers could lose their jobs across the province, Poole-Cotnam said, because municipal case workers who provide employment services also do other work.

Why that’s good enough for the people who are most vulnerable in this province is shameful.Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam

Fedcap Inc., a subsidiary of a New York City-based group of non-profits, will deliver services in Hamilton-Niagara. WCG Services, a private company owned by AMP Group, will create the program for Peel. And Fleming College was selected to design the prototype for Muskoka-Kawarthas

The catchment areas for the prototypes are much larger than the current regions, Poole-Cotnam noted, suggesting the province plans to consolidate services. 

“The writing is on the wall that they’re going to be moving to these massive geographical areas.”

PCs say old system is ineffective

The government says the new pilot will focus on local needs and results. 

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says the current system isn’t effective. Ontario Works only helps about 10 to 13 per cent of recipients find employment every year, the Auditor General has found

“Clearly, the status quo isn’t working,” McNaughton told HuffPost Monday. “We’re going to move to this performance-based system where service providers will actually be given incentives to ensure that people are finding long-term meaningful work.”

Clearly, the status quo isn’t working.Monte McNaughton

Under the current system, service providers are incentivized to help people find jobs on day one, McNaughton said. The new system will ensure they’re also rewarded for helping people with higher needs or mental health issues find long-term work, even if it takes longer, he said.

McNaughton could not immediately say what criteria was used to choose the three service providers. But his spokesperson, Bradley Metlin, said in a follow-up email that they were chosen “based on those best positioned to manage the employment system and deliver results.” 

The Ministry did not just choose the providers that had the lowest costs, he added.

The Ontario economy is booming and wages are on the rise, McNaughton said. 

“The next part of our plan will be to help the most vulnerable in Ontario find meaningful employment. And also ensure that these vulnerable people have a paycheque to put food on the table.”

But Poole-Cotnam argues that by letting a private company make money off people on social assistance, the government is doing the opposite.

“The introduction of for-profit is definitely going down the road of exploitation of our most vulnerable,” she said. “When we have abysmally low rates for people to receive food and shelter and clothing ... there should be no room for any profit in the system.”

There are other services people need before they can find and keep a job, she said.

“When I had a caseload, I had a lot of people who were employable, but they were precariously housed. They also were in situations where they didn’t have access to child care.”

Municipal case workers are better placed to help these clients find and retain work, she argued, because they already know and work with them.

This story has been updated with additional comments from the minister of labour.

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