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Stories as Telling Evidence

By Yogendra B. Shakya, Senior Research Scientist and Axelle Janczur, Executive Director, Access Alliance (modified version first published in the CERIS Blog, August 2013)

Where are the Good Jobs? Ten stories of ‘working rough, living poor’ contain ten powerful case stories of immigrant families from racialized backgrounds who are struggling to find stable employment in Canada.  They are families living in near-poverty conditions in spite of working hard and experiencing rapid deterioration of their family wellbeing and overall health. They are all working rough, living poor.

Take, for example, the Omar family who came from Egypt (pseudo-names used for confidentiality reasons). The husband is an aspiring graphic design artist. He learnt the hard way that in Canada his degree from Egypt was “not even worth the paper it is printed on.” After 5 years of going from one unstable job to another, he got fed up and decided to start a sign-making business of his own even though he had no previous business experience. Though somewhat related to design field, he feels that he is using only bare minimum of what he is really capable of. He lost many of his clients during the recent recession making him realize how risky running a small business can be. His wife has a degree in Islamic studies from Egypt and hoped to be a teacher/educator on Islamic education in Canada. However, there are no prospects within her means to do so in Canada. Instead, like many immigrant women, she is stuck doing home based catering and babysitting.

Finding Real Solutions: How can hard working Canadian families get well-paying, stable employment? Here are seven concrete actions that service providers and concerned citizens can take right now:

1. Report and take proactive action against racism and discrimination in the labour market; promote anti-discrimination and employment equity practices in your workplaces. See services provided by Ontario Human Rights Commission: www.ohrc.on.ca.

2. Report and take action against unsafe and exploitative working conditions. Enable vulnerable workers to use rights and protections offered through Employment Standards Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, and Unions. See resources and examples of actions from Workers Action Centre: http://www.workersactioncentre.org/.

3. Enable marginalized newcomer and racialized families to build strong professional networks/linkages through programs that help to overcome social isolation and structural barriers to information, knowledge, resources and opportunities. Promote bridging, networking, integration and mentorship programs that create positive relationships across occupations, class, race, social positions, geography and other divides.

4. Build stronger links with the educational sector (universities, colleges and training institutes) and employers (private, government and non-profit) to promote newcomer-friendly academic/professional bridging programs, mentorship programs, paid internship programs, apprenticeship programs, and on-the-job learning programs that can lead to stable employment pathways. On-the-job English learning programs are essential to enable people with low education and limited English language proficiency to build better employment/career pathways.

5.  Stop offering services that focus on individual behavioural modifications of racialized immigrant workers (e.g. reshuffling their resumes) or those that stream them into low-paying unstable jobs (e.g. child minding, catering) or passive job search services. Replace these with skilled job developers with proven ability to link racialized immigrants to safe, stable, well-paying and discrimination free employment pathways.

6. Since bad jobs lead to damaging health and socio-economic impacts, practitioners working in healthcare and social services need to become champions for promoting stable, secure and safe employment for all.

7. Use your citizen power (voting, advocacy to your local constituency representatives, deputations, petitions) to make government accountable for creating and effectively implementing policies that promote a discrimination free labour market, equitable workforce, healthy jobs, empowering social programs and a humanist immigration program in Canada.

Tell us about what tangible solutions you are working on or are needed to enable precariously employed families get stable good jobs.  Please post your comments!

Where are the Good Jobs? Ten stories of ‘working rough, living poor.’: is a report containing ten powerful case stories of immigrant families from racialized background (‘visible minority’) who are struggling to find good jobs in Canada.  The case stories are based on results from third phase of a multi-phase community based research project conducted by Access Alliance’s Income Security, Race and Health (ISRH) team in Toronto. This report is a follow up to a report we released in 2011 titled ‘Working Rough, Living Poor.’

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