Struggling to stay afloat in Canada

Manufacturing sector jobs flounder as demand for product drops

Years of declining profits and the economic slowdown has lead Winnipeg’s manufacturing sector to shut the doors on many jobs.

In the last three months Carsten Diercks, vice-president of Palliser Furniture, has noticed a decline in the demand for his company’s products.

“From day to day you need to buy bread. When you need a sofa, you can decide to buy it next month or next year,” he said.

Despite the recent trouble, Diercks said Palliser had benefited from the high oil prices in the summer. Importing from China became too expensive, increasing demand for locally produced furniture.

The pressure grew so much that it was hard for the company to attract enough workers.

But Palliser is unique in this. Jane Lin, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the once-booming manufacturing sector has been suffering in recent years.

“We’ve seen quite a decline in the last couple of years.”

Between 2004 and 2007, 247,000 jobs were lost across the country. November 2008 alone saw the loss of 38,000 manufacturing jobs.

Not only are jobs disappearing, but there are also less people in Canada interested in doing this kind of work, Diercks said.

We’ve seen quite a decline in the last couple of years.

Jane Lin, Statistics Canada

“In general, if you ignore the economic crisis we had a lack of labour,” he said.

“It’s not the easiest job.”

Christine Balcaen is a former University of Winnipeg student who works in a downtown plant specializing in screen printing clothing.

Balcaen herself was drawn to the job’s physical nature, but admits it may lack the appeal of less physically strenuous desk jobs.

“It would appeal to a certain kind of person. You have to be hard working and the job is a bit messy,” she said.

Paying the wages that would pull people into the market is difficult in Canada, Diercks said. As a result, Palliser has set up four plants in Mexico, where labour is cheaper.

Statistics Canada’s Lin said the disappearance of manufacturing jobs has meant gains for other industries, such as health care and education.

Yet the wages offered in other sectors may not match those offered in manufacturing.

“There is concern over what types of jobs are replacing these relatively high paying jobs,” Lin said.

DeFehr Furniture closed its Transcona plant on Dec. 31, cutting jobs and consolidating services with another location. It had also closed a plant in Morden last year. Penthouse furniture was a local retailer operated by North End Furniture Co. It closed in mid-December.

Published in Volume 63, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 15, 2009)

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