NOW Something Totally Different?

Remember I told you about the provincial government subsidizing the wages paid by Marine Recycling Corporation to some of its workers?

The Ontario-based shipbreaking company operating out of Sydport is benefiting from a program called New Opportunities for Work (NOW) which, according to the Department of Labour and Advanced Training press release about it, “has a goal of helping to connect people from underrepresented groups to jobs in their field.”

Under the terms of the program, which has apparently placed 170 workers with 104 companies (the names of which we are not allowed to know because…TRANSPARENCY):

It requires an employer pay a minimum salary of $15 an hour and they are eligible for a wage subsidy of up to $10.50 an hour over a period of up to two years. It also helps provide access to other support services and training for those involved in the program.

I double-checked with a department spokesman who told me that “a wage subsidy of up to $10.50 an hour” actually just means “a wage subsidy of up to $10.50 an hour,” whether you pay $15 an hour or $35 an hour.

And wouldn’t you know, it turns out $15 an hour is exactly what Marine Recycling pays its general shipyard workers:

 

To be clear: I do not know that the people hired under the NOW program are working as general laborers or that they are being paid $15 an hour. I’m just noting an interesting coincidence.

 

Lay-offs

Since writing my initial article, I’ve heard again from Alex Paul of the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office who provided me with more details about his organization’s involvement with the NOW program.

Paul said they’ve placed 30 participants via the program, 15 in phase one and 15 in a second phase that will see participants working as carpenters’ apprentices for “three Unama’ki communities or contractors working in their communities.”

Paul said in an email that phase one was difficult:

Phase one has been more of a challenge because we were initially working with one industry partner who was going to employ most of the participants. They have laid off all their workforce prior to our participants completing their training. So we needed to find new partners for employment.

This is quite an amazing piece of information — how does a company go from being poised to hire an additional 15 workers to laying everybody off before the new employees have even been trained?

So we have several NOW employment placements with only two employers having up to 3 participants each. The rest are spread out working for contractors in communities, a civil construction company, some appliance repair companies, a youth apprentice effort, and a[n] automotive mechanic. We are hoping to get another one placed at a metal fab shop as a welder.

Marine Recycling, then, is employing, at most, three Mi’kmaw workers under the NOW program.

Paul also provided a rationale for keeping the identities of the employers confidential:

My thoughts are that limiting the information on the employers is meant to protect the confidentiality of program participants who are working to overcome multiple barriers to employment in their effort to successful[ly] connect long term to the NS Labour force.

I can see his point, but given that a Cape Breton Post story about the program began by identifying, by name, a welder and pipefitter who’d found work at Marine Recycling Corporation through the program, I have to think the need for confidentiality is not that strong.  I also think this is a case where we must choose between competing goods and the public’s right to know which companies are benefiting from this program outweighs the participants’ right to privacy. (To be clear: I’m fine with the names of the workers being kept private, but I believe the companies involved should be named publicly.)

As I’ve said before, I do not begrudge people from under-represented groups their chance to find work in Nova Scotia, I just question who really benefits from programs like NOW — the workers or the companies who get employees for $4.50 an hour? I’m rooting for the workers. But we won’t know for sure until the subsidies run out.

Featured image: Pipefitter/welder at work by Brainass, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

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