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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.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Will Cole
    September 01, 2012 - 07:10

    To quote a poster from the CBC website about this announcement: Just like a bunch of little children... "What's going to happen next? After working 11 years for Ocean is Choice, this is what they give us?" You mean 11 SEASONS pal... 11 years is 572 weeks. How much of that time did you spend sitting around collecting pogey, as opposed to gainfully employed? The provincial government still using taxpayers' money to fund these degrading, useless make-work projects, meanwhile local businesses have to bring in foreign workers because they can't find locals willing to work. Absolutely ridiculous. Makes the whole province look like a bunch of lazy welfare bums.

  • Lee
    August 31, 2012 - 21:54

    I am one of those seasonal workers. I work in a crab plant from april until july or august, and will go in to work for anything else they bother calling me in for. I moved from the west coast of the island a few years ago because I can make a better living for my family doing a seasonal job here then possibly having to work two or three part time jobs in Corner Brook. I would love to work year round, but the fishery doesn't work that way, and pretty well everything around here depends on the fishery for it's yearly income either directly or indirectly. Usually it shuts down in december, and that is because from december to april the fishing grounds and shore lines of the area are subject to bad winter storms, the kind that cancel flights, tie up ferries, and sometimes shut down entire communities for several days. That is why the fishery is not a year round operation. Even the fish farms shut down from december to april, and job posting dry up once new years is past.

  • William Daniels
    August 31, 2012 - 17:34

    In all fairity.......

  • Working Poor
    August 31, 2012 - 16:31

    I work 2 jobs for a total of 60 hours a week at an average of $11 an hour just to make ends meet. The government takes a good portion of my pay each week. I have no health or dental coverage. If I loose one of my jobs, I can not get EI unless I get laid off from the other and even then it is for a short time. I will actually have a better quality of life on the welfare system. It is just not fair that people who are more able to work than I am are able to have a free ride at my expense. Welfare crowd sit home doing nothing for years while I slave for them. Seasonal workers sit at home half the year while I stuggle to work year round for them. It is about time that the working poor likfe myself are given some justice. Make those who abuse the system work! Make them earn a living. Even have them to drug tests. The nanny welfare state has got to go!

  • Chantal
    August 31, 2012 - 12:52

    I don't see why those seasonal workers just dont' hop on the commuter trains and go to work at one of our many auto plants. And just how lazy are those fishers and farmers that they can't harvest in the winter months?

  • AGF
    August 31, 2012 - 12:37

    This is yet another instance of a perverse incentive to labour mobility. While perhaps well-intention, the extension in the late 1970s of unemployment insurance benefits to seasonal workers on a differential basis than applicable to the general population has been has been one of the most devastating federal policies with regard to rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Combined with “make work projects,” incentives have been created to keep people located in areas with insufficient economic activity to provide a reasonable standard of living. There is much Orwellian double-speak with employment insurance as opposed to unemployment insurance and make work projects more accurately described as make unemployment insurance projects. It should be the role of the state to pursue policies so that its citizens need never collect unemployment insurance. What we have is a state with policies intended to have people collect unemployment insurance year after year. These policies do not make work, what they make and perpetuate is unemployment. I have said it before in this forum and I say it again. Eliminate unemployment insurance benefits on a special and differential basis for seasonal workers, eliminate make work projects and get the state out of the business of deciding which fish plant stays open where, and somehow, as if by some kind of invisible hand, the result will be exactly the right number of workers in the fishery in particular and in rural Newfoundland and Labrador in general. It will be fewer people yes, but they will be wealthier and will live in sustainable communities. And for those who think I am distant and aloof due to the fact that I’m in Toronto I say this. I’m not here for the scenery or the culture. I’m here because there were no jobs available in Newfoundland and Labrador matching my skills that would have allowed me to pay my bills. Why others expect the state to support them in similar circumstances baffles, and quite frankly, offends me.

  • The Other Side of The Coin
    August 31, 2012 - 11:17

    I can understand why there is less and less sympathy for our seasonal workers. Must be great to work 10 or 12 weeks a years and get 8 months off, being paid by a taxpayer funded program like EI or make-work. What is needed is an overhaul of the Fishery and the attitudes of those who prosecute or govern it. The current Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Alastair O"reilly, presented a paper over a decade ago on how to rationalise the number of plants down to 10 or 15 and that those plants would operate 50 weeks a year. That is what the Aquaculature industry does. Plant workers might have to commute to the new plants and work a full year but that is the reality most of our citizens face. It's been 20 years since the closure of the cod fishery and the only thing that has really changed is that we are fishing alternate species and pretty soon those species will collapse too. The Fishery needs to change.

    • Eli
      August 31, 2012 - 20:45

      No polititian in his or her right mind would even suggest elimination of EI for seasonal workers. Political suicide. That's why it won't change.

  • Politically incorrect
    August 31, 2012 - 09:49

    The handouts and tax breaks went to the corporate sector, supposedly on the theory that it would trickle down to create jobs. Now we learn that this public money is sitting in offshore accounts doing nothing. This is not really a surprise, but given that the economy depends on the ability of workers to consume, it will continue to drag down the rest of the economy while the 1% get richer and the 99% fight amongst themselves. Well played Mr. Harper, well played.

  • Leo Tobin
    August 31, 2012 - 09:43

    They might want to work, but they want the work delivered to their community on a silver platter or else. This is not true of most of the province's labour force, but it sure seems to be true of a majority of the labourers in the fishing/logging trade lately. Most of the rest of the province has had to go where the work is, just like the original settlers of the province did.

  • Richard
    August 31, 2012 - 08:51

    ''Make-work certainly doesn’t fit with former premier Danny Williams’ vision...'' You must be joking. No premier in living memory spent more money on artificial temporary job creation than the last one. Look at the long tril of wasteful grants, loans and other 'investments' now coming home to roost.