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Record Job Losses in Ontario

On February 18, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario released the report Ontario's Labour Market in 2020. The report provides detailed data about the job situation in Ontario for the whole year of 2020. The data are indeed alarming. Over the year, 355,300 jobs were lost, which is the largest annual loss of employment in the history of the province. In addition, 342,690 more Ontarians had close to no hours worked, while 67,350 worked less than half their usual hours. The total number of workers affected by loss of employment was 765,340, which is about one in five Ontario workers. This is a huge number of workers affected, with all the devastating consequences in terms of loss of income, anxiety, mental health problems of various kinds, family problems, not to speak about the further damage done to the economy.

While the data are useful in terms of revealing the extent of the devastation, the report attributes the job losses to the pandemic alone, specifically to the measures taken to lock down sectors of the economy that were decreed by the government, measures which reached their peak during the spring. After the relaxation of restrictions during the summer the second wave resulted in renewed restrictions later in the year until the end of 2020. The report does not examine the occurrence and impact of closures over the year that were the decisions of companies, such as the airlines, because their profits went down during the pandemic. In essence, it is presented that economic collapse is an unavoidable result of COVID-19.

That is what workers cannot accept. It does not have to be like this. It is this way because our socialized economy is organized to ensure the profits of the narrow private interests in control and ownership of the economy and because those in authority impose this aim and claim there can be no other way to organize the economy. Decisions on shutting down, as well as reopening without guaranteeing safe conditions, are motivated by this narrow aim, whatever the costs for the people.

Workers are presenting human-centred alternatives that would be beneficial to the health and safety of all and to the economy but they are blocked because they are not in control of the agenda for society and don't have decision-making power. In a recent news release, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario proposes that increased investment in public services would provide productive employment and is badly needed in the current conditions. It raises, for example, that thousands of personal support workers are needed in long-term care, which is in crisis, that thousands of contact tracers are needed for public health units, and more education workers are needed to restructure schools to make them safe. Instead of being reduced, mass transit could be expanded, with more buses and trains each carrying fewer passengers, with constant cleaning and with other workers mobilized to assist passengers to use the service safely.

Workers are demanding that agri-business, construction and other sectors be reorganized to provide safe working conditions, taking into account the need for physical distancing and other safety measures, mobilizing people to guarantee safe operation. However the discussion does not even get started because the aim of guaranteeing companies' profits is pitted against people's proposals which are discarded on the basis that if the costs for these companies increase they may close their operations.

The first thing that workers are doing within this situation is rejecting the blackmail that if they insist on the recognition of their rights, then there will be no jobs. An economy based on  human-centred alternatives is not only necessary but possible and the voice of workers is crucial to make it so.

This article was published in

Voluem [volume] Number 9 - February 22, 2021 - No. 9

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