The amount of money spent through the retraining program deployed by the Ontario government to assist 2,500 at-risk General Motors workers has declined dramatically over the past decade — from more than $18 million to just $1 million last year for the entire province, according to statistics requested by the Star.
The most dramatic reductions to the Rapid Re-Employment and Training Service, which responds to layoffs of 50 or more workers, came under the Liberal government as Ontario emerged from a deep recession: spending between 2009 and 2012 dropped from $18.4 million to $5.5 million — a 70 per cent drop. The province’s layoff rate during the same time period declined by just 1 percentage point, according to Statistics Canada.
Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities spokesperson Ciara Byrne said the program is “demand driven.” Responding to questions about expenditures, Byrne said the ministry “will conduct an evaluation to determine the level of support needed for the employer and affected employees.
“We will work with both General Motors and union representatives to ensure we have the appropriate infrastructure needed in the Durham Region to effectively support the delivery of Employment Ontario services to all affected General Motors employees and their families,” she added.
Premier Doug Ford said Monday that he was authorizing the Rapid Re-Employment and Training Service to “provide impacted local workers with targeted local training and jobs services to help them regain employment as quickly as possible.”
By 2016, the program was spending $1.1 million to respond to 125 layoffs, which impacted 9,700 employees. GM’s planned 2019 closure could impact up 2,500 unionized jobs at the Oshawa plant alone.
A study commissioned by Unifor, the union representing GM workers, found that a plant closure could result in 50,000 job losses when accounting for spinoff industries like auto parts.
Unifor is aiming to stop the 2019 closure, citing the four-year deal signed between the union and company in 2016 that contains a no-closure pledge.
“They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight,” union president Jerry Dias told workers Monday.
Ford has said that GM told him “straight up there’s nothing we can do” about the closure of the plant, which once employed 40,000. In addition to deploying the training program, Ford said he had called on the federal government to extend employment insurance eligibility for impacted workers by five weeks.
NDP labour critic Jamie West (Sudbury) said the retraining program was underfunded from the previous government, but told the Star it was not the right response to the GM crisis anyway.
“There’s a hundred years of GM in Oshawa and the premier ignores all this and talks about retraining,” he said. “It’s a talking point so it sounds like they’re doing something. But they’re not doing anything when it comes to standing up for workers, including managers.”
In the event of job losses, there are other retraining programs that could be deployed with government support: in past large-scale layoffs, the government has worked with unions and employers to establish action centres which provide dedicated support for workers.
Following the elimination of a third shift at Brampton Chrysler in 2008, for example, the company and union (then Canadian Auto Workers) provided $250,000 in funding for an action centre to help 1,000 workers, with a $1.2 million funding commitment from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.
Asked if workers in Oshawa would receive similar support, ministry spokesperson Byrne said the government was “committed to ensuring maximum support is available for affected workers, including establishing an Action Centre.”
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering work and wealth. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz
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