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Hamilton’s Labour Strategy: What’s Next? By Morteza Jafarpour

On Labour Day while we are celebrating the contributions of many women and men to our economy and communities, we should also pause to reflect on the changing face of the workforce. The demographic changes that we have witnessed in the labour force in the last few years are not just a temporary adjustment. A combination of a mass exit of baby-boomers from the workforce and the globalization of the labour market will drastically accelerate labour force demographic changes in the near future. The changes that are occurring are not just about the diversity in the work place but are also about the kind of workforce that the new economy requires.

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A Nanny’s Experience Back where I come from, we do not carry puppies or sleep with them, but my employer made me do all these. I was made to walk the dogs every time the domestic works are done. My employer told me she did not want me to stay idle at any time. I walked the dog to and from her son’s school. I notice neighbours opening their blinds to spy on me each time I passed with the dog. I kept wondering what thoughts were passing through their minds as they saw me and the puppy. May be, they discerned from my looks that I did not enjoy walking the puppy. My employer bought the puppy, but never had the time to stay with it. Before I got fired, the puppy had gotten used to me that my madam was jealous of its close attachment to me. It was not my fault that my attachment to the puppy happened, my employer caused that. The puppy story is not the experiences I would like to share today. I like many other nannies in Canada are going through unspeakable hardships that would make the freedom in this country look more like a joke. To me, there is no freedom. I am at the mercy of my employer. It is either I keep quiet and get my landing papers through this employer, or I quit and get kicked out of Canada for nothing. I chose the first, to serve and get my papers to stay in Canada. I lost my first employer that brought me to Canada because they did not require my services any more. We parted amicably and I used my work permit to look for a new employer. Through the nanny employment services, I got employed to a lady in desperate need of a nanny for her school aged son. The lady being new to this part of the region needed someone to mind her son while she adjusted to her schedules at work. I worked for her with the old work permit which was

not expired. There were no complaints initially, things were going very smooth between us. But as soon as she settled at her new work and seeing that I would soon renew my work permit under her, and that my three months probation is around the corner, she started making life miserable for me to leave. She questioned me for very little things. She even asks her son in my presence if I spank him in her absence. She went as far as making schedules for walking the puppy so as to keep me occupied all times. I am sure if the puppy could talk, she would have asked it how many times it was walked each day. My employer fired me with no just cause. I could not find another employer for over a year. She used my services and discarded me so as not to get into a contract. There are no unions to defend me. People told me that if she does not want me anymore, that I should leave her home. Life was very depressing and humiliating since I depended on friends for my existence for over a year. I went into depression because I never knew things would turn badly for me just because some body does not like my face. Thank God immigration did not send me back but rather asked me to look for another employer. After one year, I found another employer and I pray she does not treat me like this last one. I could have been filing for my landing papers after two years, but because of the setback, I lost a year. I have to wait for another year to file for my papers. Lessons learned from this experience are many. Nannies in Canada have no say in terms of job conditions. There is no health coverage at all. When I get sick, I pray to get well because I cannot afford the medical bills. I think there should be a kind of protection for this vulnerable group of workers. Sorry, I cannot reveal my name or who I am.

Early in 2001, Hamilton’s Economic Development Department commissioned a study to examine the long-term implications for the city’s economy arising from an aging population, and to recommend actions to counter any negative consequences. The report produced as the result of this study later became known as the HR Matters Report. This study measured the impact that the convergence of escalating baby-boomer retirement and dwindling youth population are likely to have on Hamilton’s labour force and its economy. It recommended actions to combat unprecedented declines in the labour supply, and identified opportunities the community can exploit, and resources the community will need. The study concluded that Hamilton’s population growth is slowing rapidly and it is becoming much older; and without immigration, Hamilton would suffer a net loss of population due to migration patterns. More people leave Hamilton for other locations in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada than come the other way. At the time of the study immigration accounted for approximately 85% of Hamilton’s total population growth and the study projected that soon this could rise to 100%. Immigration to Hamilton has fuelled its population growth for the past two decades. Based on data from Statistics Canada, the Canadian Business and Labour Centre released a report in 2003, which showed a retention rate of 130% for immigrants in Hamilton between 1996 and 2001. Since then, however, Hamilton has continued to attract immigrants at a lower rate, from an annual 4,264 in 2001-2002 to 3,836 in 2005-2006, while the total net migration has slipped from an annual 6,600 in 2001-2002 to 1,249 in 20052006. The overall population growth for Hamilton has dropped to a low of 2,763 in 2005-2006 from 8,701 in 2001-2002. Losses in the manufacturing sector after 2001, coupled with lack of incentives to keep skilled immigrants here, leave many to face the decision of moving to other cities, going back to their own countries or living in poverty, with the hope of better opportunities in the future. Low net migration numbers in 2006 are not a surprise. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area’s economy slumped in 2006, posting its worst performance in five years.

grow” on the provincial agenda, while our own Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS) identifies a target population of 700,000 by 2031 and an added 100,000 jobs the same year. While almost everyone agrees that the right workforce will be the key factor for the city’s future prosperity and economic growth yet we have failed to develop and execute a plan to attract and retain the required workforce. The competition to attract global skills and talents, coupled with a general tendency to “regionalize” immigration, has resulted in a highly competitive environment for our provinces and for our cities-regions to attract and retain immigrants. Hamilton is currently losing in this game. Regardless of these negative trends, however it is still not too late to put Hamilton back on the right track. Almost everybody agrees that Hamilton has all the right components to become an economic success. During the last year there have been several developments which indicate steps are being taken in the right direction. One of the most significant steps was the “Hamilton Economic Summit” led by the Chamber of Commerce. This conference titled “Leaders Moving Forward Together” was a major step forward in an attempt to develop a comprehensive framework for Hamilton’s future economic growth. Political and civic leadership and collaboration between both sides is the other important issue which needed to be fine-tuned. Under the banner of collaborative leadership there have been attempts to bridge the gaps and heal the wounds. Specifically the Economic Development Advisory Committee, formed by the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative (JPC), will provide advice on fostering and advancing economic opportunities and the promotion of Hamilton by tapping into knowledge and information from JPC members. The JPC hopes this initiative will build stronger bridges and foster collaborative leadership between civic and political leaders. More work still needs to be done to define boundaries and build trust between the two sides. One other issue is the development of a Hamilton immigration strategy which after four years is still in the embryonic stage. While there is no doubt about the importance of the workforce in economic development, and every study shows that at least 80% of the shortage in the workforce will be overcome by immigration. But developing immigration strategy which is in line with the city’s economic development plan has not been shown to be a high priority for people in charge of this matter. Finally, although during the last few years there have been many initiatives to promote diversity in the work places, including in the public sector, at best the achievement has been bordering on the level of tokenism. Building a thoroughly inclusive workplace and communities require overcoming tokenism. Only a real inclusive environment will bring together the most talented and innovative people. Innovation will be the engine of the new economy. ■

What is most disturbing is that this is happening in the context of Hamilton being one of the designated “places to w w w.thevoiceindiasp ora.com

Aug-Sep 2008 • Vol 1 • Issue 10-11

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