Christmas layoffs dehumanizing, meanspirited and unfeeling

By Robert Washburn

It is mind-numbing to realize the number of people who were given layoff notices in the last month or so, just before Christmas.

A rough survey across Canada shows about 15,000 people were told they are no longer needed or the plant was closing, since Nov. 1. The vast majority of these were in Ontario.

The companies included Potash Corp. Sears Canada, Blackberry, Canada Post, Heinz, and Kellogg’s. While these companies made front page news, many smaller firms like, Hallmark Cards, McKesson Canada, Raytheon, CCL Industries made the inside pages. Locally, General Electric in Peterborough laid off 250 workers and Liquidation World, which has an outlet in Cobourg, announced it is closing its Canadian operation.

The reasons are as varied as the companies. Many say it is due to global competition, a poor economy, falling demand, shrinking markets and so forth. No one can argue against the business case.

But, there is a heartlessness about announcements coming only weeks before Christmas. Nothing is more soul-crushing than losing a job. It throws a person’s life into chaos, not knowing how bills will be paid, how food will be put on the table and puts into question whether there will be a roof over one’s head. But to get the news just before Christmas shreds any joy for the holidays.

Meanwhile, the one per cent of society are making headlines sufficient to make the skin crawl.

Ontario Power Generator (OPG) is cutting its staff by 2,000 employees by 2015, about 8.5 per cent, to control costs. Meanwhile, between 2005 and 2012, it increased the number of executives and senior managers by 50 per cent, even as it continued to lay off 1,200 workers.

Non-union staff at OPG can get incentives for up to $1.3 million. And, the top five executives have pension ranging from $180,000 to $760,000 a year. Incredibly, its worker’s pension fund is facing a deficit of $555 million.

A recent EKOS poll says Canadians feel they are being left behind, while CEOs are allowed to thrive. The poll says 89 per cent of people feel CEOs are getting ahead, while 70 per cent feel the middle class is falling behind.

The dignity of working people is being lost. It is no longer about the poor being marginalized. These are people just like us: young people with a good education, longtime employees, skilled workers and the like.

The Occupy Wall Street movement tried to wake up everyday people to the inequities in 2011.  In the past year, countless articles and editorials bemoan the situation. The sense of imbalance is growing.

Organizations, academic institutes and regular hardworking people are becoming tired of the unfairness and poor treatment. Shareholders are held to be more sacred than those who do the work to create their wealth.

With a provincial spring election on the horizon, the economy will be a central issue. Already, positions are being mapped out. Minimum wage, unemployment benefits, Canada Pension Plan, job creation and economic stimulus will all be hot topics.

And, while the rhetoric will sound like the various parties care deeply, residents of Northumberland County will need to see past the bombast. And, it could be time to join with the other voices calling for greater equity.

You see, all the economic arguments in the world do not remove the callousness regarding the manner in which people are treated. Laying off workers before Christmas is heartless, no matter what rationale is given. It is dehumanizing, unfeeling and mean.

Originally published Dec. 18, 2013