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The region of Niagara has voted to steer clear of a controversial job placement P3, rejecting the Ontario government’s plan to privatize employment services for peoplee on social assistance.

The government announced the plan, known as JobsNow, in April 2005. At the time, the Ministry of Community and Social Services announced it had contracted with a corporation called WCG International. The contract was to run six “pilot projects” delivering municipal employment services – services that, in many cases, CUPE members already provide.

The six test communities – Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, Nippissing, Peel and Durham – were chosen without any community consultation, and without allowing local governments and community agencies to develop alternatives to privatization. But it seems the Ontario government can’t force further expansion in its two-year contract. Earlier this spring, Toronto declined to get involved, and Niagara added its voice in early July.

Niagara social service workers, members of CUPE 1287, played a key role in this major victory. The local made a strong presentation to the region’s community services committee that led to a report urging regional council to reject JobsNow.

The presentation showed how privatization would destabilize already-fragile programs; hurting clients while profits were siphoned away from services. CUPE also reminded politicians of the cost overruns and broken promises that have riddled a privatized welfare reform contract with Accenture.

Members made sure their community agencies were informed and on board in opposing JobsNow. The issue also came up after council heard about a successful anti-P3 hospital plebiscite in which 13,000 residents rejected a for-profit hospital. It all added up to an unopposed motion endorsing the social services committee’s call to reject JobsNow.

Reports emerging from British Columbia have dealt a further blow to the credibility of the for-profit scheme. The firm has been running a similar program, called JobWave, for a decade. B.C. is also home to WCG International’s head office. It was B.C. politicians, along with the Fraser Institute, that recommended WCG set up shop in Ontario.

All the while, the B.C. government had a report detailing serious problems with the program, including a $13-million cost overrun and service delivery that showed only marginal improvement at best. Much of that “improvement” was skewed by JobWave’s own form of cream-skimming, in which only clients who are “easiest” to work with and most employable were admitted to the program.

A performance-payment clause in JobWave’s contract provides the incentive to maximize profits in this way, leaving those facing greater barriers to employment out in the cold.

CUPE Ontario’s campaign against JobsNow will continue, including close scrutiny of the six pilot projects. Work is underway to forge closer ties with coalition partners in each of the six communities, and organize town hall meetings. Visit www.cupe.on.ca/www/jobsnow_campaign for more information.