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Social action groups seek welfare reform

An alliance of social welfare advocates in Quebec are asking Quebec’s Labour, Employment and Social solidarity Minister Jean Boulet to reform the rules that make it harder for welfare recipients to get by.

Specifically, the group wants the social assistance system to stop penalizing claimants who are in the process of reintegrating into the labour market, with the first barrier to employment identified as the amount of social assistance cheques. “At $669 per month for a single person, the amount of the social assistance cheque is clearly insufficient to allow for the search for work,” says community organizer Sheetal Pathak. “A studio on the Island of Montreal costs an average of $649 a month (according to the CMHC). From the first of the month, people are in survival mode,” she says, adding job searches require a bus pass, phone, and decent clothing.

Another obstacle cited is the increased administrative burden when work income is reported.

People on social assistance are often working part-time, on-call, with a variable income and no guarantee of hours. “When I was on social assistance, I only managed to find part-time or contract jobs” recalled now-retired Debra Fogel. “The welfare office often asked me for proof that I was not working full-time, or that I was between contracts. It’s hard to prove—sometimes my employer wouldn’t give me a job statement because he still thought he’d keep me on call. It’s embarrassing to ask for letters from your employer when you’re always on call and you’re trying to maintain a good relationship.”

In addition to requests for documents, working on social assistance can lead to increased financial instability, with a single recipient permitted to keep only $200 of work earnings per month ($300 per couple). Any excess work income is cut dollar for dollar from the next cheque. However, when hours and incomes vary, social assistance will prefer to cut “too much” to prevent recipients from accumulating debts says Pathak. “The result is that many people find themselves in a situation where they cannot pay their rent because they have worked. It doesn’t make any sense.” Moreover, the amount has not been increased since 1999, today representing 16 hours of work per month at minimum wage, whereas 20 years ago, claimants could work 29 hours a month and keep their full salary.

Finally, the complex process of allocating social assistance discourages many from taking the risk of leaving the program and losing the little financial stability they have. The group wants the government to significantly increase social assistance, increase work gains allowed, reduce administrative requirements for working recipients, and improve access to social assistance for all.

Loblaw will shut Laval distribution centre

The new year started out on a sombre note for 545 Provigo employees after their union confirmed reports that parent company Loblaws is shutting down its Laval distribution centre.

The sprawling warehouse in the industrial park south of Highway 440 that has hummed with activity around the clock for years, will close within two years as the dry goods operations serving Quebec and eastern Canada is moved to a subcontracted Cornwall facility. Also reported to be closing is Loblaws’ Ottawa centre, eliminating an additional 250 jobs.

For its part, Loblaws stated that the Francis Hughes site could not be renovated or upgraded, and had reached the end of its useful life, the company having little options but to close both sites.

The two-year phase-out to consolidate the two centres is giving the United Food and Commercial Workers union (TUAC) hope that they can help their members transition into quality jobs, with the company pledging its cooperation to help employees out, including finding some of them slots in other areas of their operations. The Cornwall plant which will be modernized and automated, will also serve Loblaws’ Pharmaprix and Shoppers Drug Mart banners in Quebec and Ontario.

The company’s fresh and frozen products will continue to be stocked and distributed by Loblaws’ Boucherville factory. Unlike Sobeys which set up in Terrebonne, TUAC lamented that Loblaws went outside the province to modernize its operation.

The employees learned Tuesday morning about the closing with some telling media that they were certain the decision was made long before the holidays despite the announcement delayed until the new year. “Nobody wanted to look like a Grinch during the Christmas season” one employee told French radio. “At least we have two years for some of us to pay off our holiday bills.”

Warm up en blanc

Get dressed and get outside for Laval en blanc.

The 16th annual winter weekend festival returns to Vieux-Sainte-Rose January 24 to 26, and this year the city is again offering a plethora of outdoor activities and free and entertaining shows. Some 20,000 visitors are expected this year to take in the popular fireworks display, outdoor concerts by Andy St-Louis, Alexe Gaudreault and Benoit Archambault, an illuminated hula hoop show with Jamye La Luna, a percussion show, Boréalis Laser Show and more. In addition to the shows and fireworks, there are about 30 activities, including ice fishing, dog sled rides, a stained-glass workshop, axe-throwing, slides, an ice trail, and more. As winter rolls on, from January to March some 20 Laval parks offer a variety for free winter activities for young and old to move, celebrate and play.

Laval en blanc details:

For all winter activity details, visit