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Quebec economy cracks as job losses mount

Deborah Murray

February 19, 2012

Economic analysts paint a dire picture as they describe recent job losses in Quebec: “Quebec’s recent job meltdown…disastrous employment performance … employment plunge(d)…worst three-month job loss in three decades, unmatched since the exceptionally severe recession of 1981…the impact has been brutal.”

They have been useless at explaining the job losses as they fumble for words in shocked disbelief at the figures.

In the last half of 2011, 103,000 Quebec workers lost their jobs. From October to December alone, employers axed 70,000 jobs causing Quebec’s unemployment rate to jump to 8.7% in January from 7.3% in September.

Workers have lost jobs across widely different sectors. Since last spring, jobs have been lost in retail, health care and social services, information and culture, business support services, finance, professional services, manufacturing and construction. The situation defies economic descriptors such as “an anomaly” and “a blip”.

Here’s what the “blip” looks like in the months to come:

January 2012

White Birch Paper Co. inQuebec City(Stadacona)—laid off 600 workers.

Aluminum giant Rio Tinto Alcan—locked out 800 workers.

Recent announcements of layoffs:

Electrolux AB—will lay off 1,300 workers.

Home appliance maker Mabe in Montreal—will slash 700 jobs in Montreal.

British drug maker AstraZeneca in Montreal—will cut 132 full-time jobs (17 per cent of its workforce)

Johnson & Johnson—will lay off 126 workers.

Sanofi, a medical research company, in Montreal—will cut 100 jobs.

Reebok—will lay off 70 workers to move most of its production to Asia. Reebok had 850 employees in the mid-1990s.

The federal government plans to cut public sector jobs affecting workers in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Many investors in the manufacturing industry have shelved operation expansions meaning more layoffs to come.

Many laid off workers have had full-time jobs stretching over many years. These workers can’t transfer to other work areas without significant training or accepting extremely low paying and often part-time work.

It seems jobs lost have disappeared for good. Given the economy in Quebec, any new jobs created will be at the expense of full-time jobs.

Bank of Montreal’s top banker, Jacques Ménard, says Quebec’s job losses “are not symptomatic of what is happening in the world that we live in as business leaders”. Regardless of whatever world “business leaders” live in, the real world of unemployment will have an immediate and long term impact on workers.

In and outside of Quebec, workers will need to join together to fight austerity budget cutbacks, job losses and attacks on pensions and pay as the private and public sectors make a desperate grab for money. The fight for decent jobs is on.

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