By Linda Leatherdale Toronto Sun
Walk a mile in my work boots.
That sums up an outcry by unemployed Canadian workers angered by Sun Media’s three-part series, Wasted Assets.
The series chronicled the frustration of skilled and educated immigrants lured to Canada in face of a growing labour shortage only to end up working in low-paying, dead-end jobs, such as driving cabs or cleaning offices because of bureaucratic barriers.
“It’s all fine for the media to write about the plight of immigrants in Canada, but what about the plight of Canadian citizens,” asked Frances Hutchinson.
Toronto-born Hutchinson said she spent 10 years in the childcare and restaurant industry, then trained to be a computer expert. Now she can’t find a job.
Nor can her boyfriend, Norm, whose resume lists extensive experience in shipping and receiving, production and manufacturing, general labour and forklift operations.
Paul McDonald of Mississauga was appalled that Tim Tower, who owns a machine shop north of Toronto, was forced to hire illegal aliens because he complained he couldn’t find workers here in Canada — and our immigration process wasn’t bringing in skilled immigrants fast enough.
“At this moment, there are literally thousands of skilled tool and die makers out of work, of which I am one with 35 years experience,” wrote McDonald, who’s been pounding the pavement for the last seven months.
Manfred Hanf of Whitby is another one. The experienced tool and die maker has been out of work for four years.
Keith Aikens, who has brought together unemployed machinists from across the country and is lobbying politicians for help, is another tool and die maker who can’t find work.
Even in Alberta, where the economy is on fire and job demand outstrips supply, skilled labourers wrote to complain they can’t find work.
Ray Cameron, a top-notch tool maker in Edmonton, is one of them.
Yet, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says many of its members across the country are suffering from a shortage of workers, with 70 per cent of 265,000 job openings sitting vacant for the last four months and 91 per cent of them in the non-professional category.
As well, the Conference Board of Canada predicts there will be one million skilled job vacancies in the next 20 years. Experts estimate this crisis costs Canada’s economy anywhere from $5 billion to $15 billion a year.
Meanwhile, Canada’s unemployment rate inched up to 6.2 per cent last month, from 6.1 per cent in December.
So what gives?
For one, the automotive industry is in a severe slump, with layoffs hitting hard. Manufacturers also have been laying off workers.
Then there’s the chronically unemployed — older workers whose skills have not kept up with the fast-paced technological revolution.
“This is a healthy debate,” said immigration lawyer Richard Boraks, whose client is machine shop owner Tim Tower.
To help unemployed workers who wrote in wanting to contact Tower for a job, Boraks has offered to accept resumes by fax (416-588-8785) at his law firm.
“I have many clients who are small business owners who fear they’ll have to close up shop because they can’t find workers,” Boraks said.
CFIB chairperson Catherine Swift stressed their is a labour shortage in Canada.
“What is the disconnect?” she asked. “Because these trades are in demand.”
She added not only is it time to break down the barriers by reforming immigration policies which now favour over-qualified immigrants, but perhaps a review is needed to ensure that what’s being taught in community colleges and universities matches job requirements.
Kent Sutherland of Mississauga sent in his story of his two boys — one who went to college for two years for tool and die making, the other who studied gem setting and goldsmithing.
He said the government relaxed restrictions for immigrant goldsmiths and his son’s hourly rate plummeted, then the firm he was employed at closed and moved offshore.
As for his tool and die maker son, his hours have been cut at a large auto parts plant and he fears layoffs.
“So please, tell me where Tim Tower’s plant is. I’ve got two sons ready to send him their resumes and they are skilled Canadian workers used to working 50 hours a week.”