A reader tells the story of an out-of-work fisherman who, decades ago, showed up at the local student placement office pleading for a job.
When told the office was for students only, the man explained that he didn’t want to resort to the same old government-funded programs for adults like himself.
“I don’t want to end up at the community centre fighting over an old broom,” he said.
That pretty well sums up the gut-wrenching reality of what has come to be called “make-work.
”Long a mainstay of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the concept of creating meaningless jobs for displaced workers has fallen out of fashion in recent times.
Make-work certainly doesn’t fit with former premier Danny Williams’ vision of a “proud, strong, determined” people fighting to make their own way. (Some people even say Williams “gave us back our pride,” as if it had been somehow lost or stolen.)
More and more, governments try to come up with alternate solutions: pension funds top-ups, licence buyouts and job retraining. More onus is put on regional development boards to drum up new enterprise.
But make-work still happens, and when it does, it’s usually dressed up as a laudable investment of some kind.
Take, for example, a provincial news release Wednesday announcing $250,000 to help displaced shrimp plant workers in Jackson’s Arm.
The release quoted Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien as follows: “In communities where fish plants close, our government helps residents bridge the gap to new employment opportunities by providing new experiences and skills.”
New experiences and skills?
The work involves upgrades and renovations to a recreation centre, festival field and bandstand, as well as an extension on a screen house.
You know most of these workers will be doing routine carpentry, painting and plain old grunt labour. And, yes, that includes pushing an old broom. Jackson’s Arms will be a little prettier for it, but it can hardly be called meaningful employment. To suggest it is a form of skill development is laughable.
O’Brien kept up the facade in another announcement Thursday. Referring to renovations planned for the community centre in St. Bride’s, the minister again said the funding allows displaced plant workers to “avail of short-term employment to help them transition to new opportunities.”
Translation: a few jobs to get them through the winter.
People in this province want to work — something Prime Minister Stephen Harper and like-minded politicos fail to understand when they lament our so-called defeatist culture.
But make-work is just that: made-up jobs doled out as a stop-gap measure. It’s better than a handout, but only barely. And it rarely achieves anything more than to delay the inevitable.
It’s time to stop dressing it up as anything more.