Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad jobs

According to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, there is no such thing as a bad job. This is the attitude members of government are taking as they propose changes to Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) system, changes that could affect myself and my co-workers. (By the way, the layoff notice I got? It was not pink. I was disappointed.) While some have been fortunate enough to find employment elsewhere, many of us will find ourselves collecting EI. That's what happens when the third-largest employer in town shuts its doors in rural Nova Scotia. Many of the people I work with are nervous about these changes, and with good reason. Not many details have been released yet, in true secretive Tory fashion, but from what I've read in the news, it doesn't look good.

First and foremost, there have been proposed changes to the types of jobs people collecting EI are allowed to turn down. Under current rules, you can turn down jobs that aren't in the field you're trained in, or jobs that are significantly below your previous rate of pay, without losing your benefits. Flaherty wants to change that. This has lead to criticisms from the Opposition NDP that teachers, nurses and software developers might be forced to accept a job driving a cab or serving coffee at Tim Hortons, criticisms which are probably hyperbolic.

Obviously, it would be bad if highly skilled individuals are forced to work in fast food or risk losing their EI benefits. What about people already working low-skilled jobs, though? My current job- the one I'll be losing in just over two months- is an entry-level job at a call centre. I would like to be able to move on up to getting a job that will let me use the skills I have, but under these changes, I stand a very real chance of being forced to take that Tim Hortons job. My co-workers will be in the same boat. For me, working in fast food would mean taking a pay cut, for starters. Assuming fast food pays minimum wage-- and most of the time, they do-- I'd earn about 11% less than I currently do. When you're already low-income and struggling to pay the bills, that can be significant. I'm also losing my health insurance when I lose my call centre job, and jobs in the food service industry don't generally offer benefits. I can only think of one that does-- McDonald's-- but I don't know if those benefits will be in any way comparable to what I have now. My prescription drug costs alone would be in the area of $200 per month without coverage. I absolutely cannot afford both an 11% pay cut and the need to pay for my medications completely out-of-pocket.

Collecting EI already means I'm taking a pay cut; I'll receive 55% of my wage, which will actually put me below the poverty line. That 55% is coming out of my gross wages, however; the amount I get after deductions (which includes paying a premium for that health insurance I mentioned earlier) is a good bit lower than that. Also, my cost of living is higher when I'm working compared to when I'm not. I no longer need to worry about transportation costs, for example. Finally-- and probably most significantly-- I will be better able to afford my medication if I'm collecting EI. This is because my gross income while collecting EI means that I'll not only qualify for the Family Pharmacare program here in Nova Scotia, but my deductible will be quite low. Working a minimum wage job would mean my deducible would be four times higher. I would not be able to afford my medication.

Let that sink in for a minute: I am better able to pay for my medication when not working compared to if I was working.

Without my medication, I would be unable to work. Hell, even with my medication, I have a hard time working; I can't imagine what my life would be like without it. What this means for me is that, when I look for a new job, I have to be picky. I cannot afford to work at a job that does not offer health benefits which would allow me to pay for the medication I need to do the job.

Minister Flaherty is quite wrong when he says that there is no such thing as a bad job. If changes to EI mean that I am forced to take what is, for me, a bad job, I would be unable to keep said job. My health would deteriorate until I am forced to quit or take a leave of absence, or I end up getting fired for some combination of poor performance and too many sick days.

Unlike the idea of teachers and nurses working at Tim Hortons, what I am describing is not hyperbole. If changes are made to the type of jobs EI claimants are allowed to refuse, this could very well be my reality, and it is a very scary reality.

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