Carrie Lynn Poole, municipal representative to the CUPE Ontario Social Services Workers’ Coordinating Committee says “the company could not develop better jobs, and many of the jobs could never provide a living wage to help move clients off social assistance on a long-term basis.”
Poole is talking about West Coast Group (WCG), a BC-based company contracted by the Ontario government to run six pilot projects called “JobsNow” in Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, Nippissing, Durham and Peel.
WCG’s job was to provide longer-term Ontario Works participants with job-matching services, pre-employment supports, job orientation and follow-up support on job-related issues - the same thing Ontario Works staff do.
“WCG was paid on a fee-for-performance basis, with fees being a percentage of reduced IA [income assistance] payments … there was no fee for a job placement. The performance fee percentage increased based on the length of time a pilot participant remained employed.”
After a two-year run that ended in May of 2007, and several months of silence before a third-party consulting company released its review of JobsNow, the word is out. And it’s not good for WCG.
CUPE Ontario President, Sid Ryan says “the evaluation’s findings lead one to conclude that contracting out job services to a company that is paid taxpayer dollars for finding jobs – any jobs – for people on social assistance is not in the public interest.
The Ontario government paid WCG $7.6 million to find jobs for social assistance recipients, and yet the evaluation shows that the JobsNow P3 project was no more effective than the Ontario Works programming delivered by CUPE members.”
“At the very beginning,” says Poole, “CUPE members questioned the wisdom of using taxpayer dollars to provide duplicate services by a for profit company when those same services are already being provided in a nonprofit setting. Why would the government give $7.6 million in taxpayer dollars to a forprofit company when that money could be used to deliver the existing, quality public service?”
Some of the findings:
- The jobs JobsNow found were often part-time and low-waged. Nearly 4 out of 10 participants (37 per cent) said the selection of job leads was poor.
- JobsNow’s “results-based payment structure” may have put people in jobs to which they were ill-suited.
- For those who found employment, the majority said JobsNow did not help them keep their job. Only 13 per cent of all participants had found employment and remained in the program for the full 18 months.
- Only 15 per cent of all participants surveyed found a job they attributed to the services they received through JobsNow.
Even with these shortcomings, JobsNow was still able to cash in on the “placement”. No matter how bleak the job prospect for the person on social assistance, JobsNow still got paid.
“Our clients face multiple barriers in finding and keeping a job,” Poole said. “We manage it all and connect people to multiple services they might need. We support individuals and families with access to services like child care, affordable housing, transit, employment coaching – a complementary and comprehensive approach to minimize the barriers so people can be successful in the workplace as well as in life.”
Poole is wary that another for-profit attempt to squeeze out the publicly delivered service is on the horizon. The government is rolling out another program called “Employment Ontario”, without, as of yet, any consultation with frontline welfare workers.