1. Northern Pulp
We have two articles about Northern Pulp this morning.
The first, by Jennifer Henderson, looks at Northern Pulp’s announcement that it will continue to operate as a business in Nova Scotia and is continuing with the environmental assessment for its proposed effluent pipe into the Northumberland Strait. As well, Henderson looks at the political reaction.
The second article, by Joan Baxter, takes a longer view, reminding us of the public money that has gone towards supporting the mill through the years, and asking what Northern Pulp’s future plans might entail.
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2. Police want more money
Zane Woodford reports that Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella is looking for more money, almost $1 million, to “better serve the community.”
The department presented its 2020-2021 yesterday, asking for a 1.12 per cent increase over its 2019-2020 budget.
Kinsella says he needs to hire new sergeants to close gaps in service. Meanwhile, councillor Tony Mancini says he’s not sure other councillors will approve the increase.
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3. Space fraud
This item is written by Tim Bousquet.
The proposed Canso spaceport is to be operated by a company called Maritime Launch Services (MLS), which has “partnered” with a California based company called United Paradyne Corporation. United Paradyne is actually a part owner of MLS, and United Paradyne will provide the fuel — Hydrazine — used by rockets launching from the spaceport.
Last summer, Maritime Launch Services CEO Steve Matier “pushed back” on criticism that the Hydrazine-fueled rockets that will be used at the site are an environmental hazard (see, for example, Joan Baxter’s article, “Opposition to Canso spaceport grows“).
But can United Paradyne be trusted to operate ethically? A US Department of Justice statement released Monday suggests that it can’t.
NASA Contractor Agrees To Pay $375,000 To Settle False Claims Act Liability
Orlando, FL – United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announces today that United Paradyne Corporation has agreed to pay the United States $375,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by submitting claims to NASA for assembling and cleaning rocket launch systems that it had failed to perform.
The settlement relates to United Paradyne’s agreement to provide NASA with certain ground support equipment designed to support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion space capsule for NASA’s Artemis program. Specifically, United Paradyne agreed to fabricate five Hydraulic Accumulator Rack Assembly Swing Arm Systems for the mobile launcher. The hydraulic accumulator racks actuate swing arms, also called umbilicals, on the mobile launcher and are responsible for providing the SLS rocket and Orion space capsule with power, communications, coolant, fuel, and stabilization prior to launch. The Crew Access Arm umbilical was designed for astronauts to access the Orion capsule and will be used on NASA’s Artemis II mission, the first SLS and Orion flight with astronauts in 2022.
According to the settlement agreement, United Paradyne submitted claims under NASA-KSC Contract No. NNK14EA09D for payment for delivery of the accumulator racks that failed to conform to the requirements of the contract approved by NASA. More specifically, the United States alleged that United Paradyne delivered five accumulator racks between August 11 and October 19, 2015, and that United Paradyne failed to clean the racks, failed to verify cleanliness, and failed to maintain cleanliness throughout functional testing and final inspection, and falsely certified that it conformed to NASA’s requirements. [emphasis added]
“Violating NASA’s contractual requirements raises danger and risks to our space program and its personnel as well as harms the integrity of the federal contracting process,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office remains committed to enforcing federal law and ensuring a system of fair play for all government contractors.”
“The NASA Office of Inspector General will continue to aggressively investigate all Whistleblower Qui Tam fraud allegations related to NASA operations and the building of the next generation space launch vehicle and related ground support equipment. I congratulate the Department of Justice and the Whistleblower Qui Tam relator in coming to an acceptable resolution in this civil matter with United Paradyne Corporation,” said Special Agent in Charge John Corbett, Central Field Office, NASA OIG.
The settlement concludes a lawsuit originally filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida by a former employee of United Paradyne, Steven Walker. Mr. Walker sued under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act permitting a private citizen to sue on behalf of the United States for false claims and to share in the recovery. The Act also allows the United States to intervene and prosecute the action. Mr. Walker will receive $75,000 of the proceeds from the settlement with United Paradyne.
This settlement resulted from a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the NASA Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Jeremy R. Bloor led the investigation.
The case is captioned United States ex rel. Steven James Walker v. United Paradyne Corporation, Case No. 6:17-cv-01507-ORL-18-TBS. The settlement resolves the United States’ claims in that case. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
The allegation was that United Paradyne lied about meeting compliance standards for operations that involve human space operations. (The allegation was not tested in court, and the payment resolves the issue without an admission of guilt.) Which raises the question: if United Paradyne would lie about a human-involved spaced operation in a highly regulated NASA environment — NASA had decades of experience monitoring contractors — what might the company try to get away with in the backwoods of Nova Scotia with a cut-rate satellite operation monitored by regulatory agencies with zero experience in space operation?
4. Vigil held for crash victims
A vigil was held at the Al Rasoul Islamic Society centre in Bedford last night to remember those who were killed in the Ukraine International Airlines plane crash. Elizabeth MacMillan with CBC attended the vigil where several family members spoke, including Masoud Adibi, whose wife, Dr. Sharieh Faghihi was on the plane. Faghihi was a dentist who practiced in Halifax.
This tragedy was very, very hard for all the passenger’s families, and for Halifax community, even for Canadian people.
Dal engineering student Masoumeh Ghavi was also on the flight with her younger sister, Mandieh, who was planning on studying in Halifax. Ali Nafarieh, president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia, also owns Hanatech, the Bedford company where Masoumeh worked.
I cannot still believe she’s not coming back. In addition to skills, experience … what she brought to the company, mainly, was energy. All the time she was wearing the smile, beautiful smile, you can see it in her picture … Masi will be missed forever.
Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi, who were both pursuing master’s of finance at Saint Mary’s University, were also killed in the crash.
5. Program to get patients off wait lists ending March 1
A program that gave doctors in Nova Scotia a bonus for getting patients off wait lists is coming to an end, writes Carolyn Ray for CBC.
Under the program, doctors got $150 for each patient taken off the list. But that bonus ends on March 1. More than 54,000 patients found doctors through the program.
Health minister Randy Delorey says the program was a short-term solution until a new contract was negotiated. Under that new agreement, doctors in Nova Scotia are now the highest paid in the country, moving from being the lowest paid.
Dr. Gary Ernst, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, says the ending of the program caused some scrambling but they negotiated to push the end date ahead by a couple of months.
Still, Ernst says ending the program won’t influence a doctor’s decision to practice in the province.
The majority of doctors have practices that are full or beyond full. For the average doctor in the province, he or she is not going to be able to take many new patients.
1. Missing off the top
Over at Halifax Bloggers, Stephen Archibald writes about some of the decorative details, dormers, and towers that have been removed from Halifax’s most historic buildings over the years. Archibald noticed a tweet from heritage planner Elizabeth Cushing who posted “Then and Now” photos of St. Mary’s Girls’ School, which once had a tower and eyebrow dormers. (Cushing tweets out some fascinating photos of Halifax’s heritage buildings). In his blog, Archibald includes a number of examples of buildings in the city that have lost a little off the top, such as the courthouse on Spring Garden Road, which once had a temple on its roof.
City Hall once had two mini towers on either end of its roof.
And the post office in downtown Dartmouth used to have a tower.
Ahhh, all the interesting things that go missing when we’re not looking up.
2. Paying for minor hockey can be the luck of the draw
I don’t know much about hockey. I didn’t grow up watching hockey. My siblings and I didn’t play. I don’t watch hockey now. But I do know hockey is expensive to play, and a local fundraising lottery got my attention in the last few months. It’s a 50-50 draw for the Sackville Minor Hockey Association and its monthly jackpots are bringing in lots of money for the teams. I actually bought tickets a few times; I know the parent of a young player and he posts details of the draws on Facebook (I have never won). The winner of the last draw in December won $120,645.
The Sackville draw started in January 2016. The jackpot for that first draw was $7,189 and they’ve been growing ever since. The jackpot hit the six-figure mark in February 2019 when the winner got $110,174. Every jackpot since has been more than $100,000. All of details and rules of the game and a list of winners are here. The largest jackpot was in March 2019 when the winner got $152,282. Alan Blackwood, the communications director for the association says before the 50-50 each of the teams took care of its own fundraising, usually through bottle drives or selling tickets on a gift-card tree. The Sackville Minor Hockey Association has 45 teams with an average of 17 players per team. The revenue generated from the draws helps all the players.
The idea was to lighten the burden on the community. Teams still do their own fundraising, but not as much now because this is going so well. These kids want to play hockey and this makes it more accessible and it’s working.
Families don’t get cash from the 50-50 revenue but rather they get credits they can use for their expenses. The association keeps track of all the credits. The draw is run by the association and each family sells tickets. Tickets for the draw are $2 each. Each family gets 90 cents on every dollar sold. Ten cents from each ticket sold goes toward the costs of the draw. The winner gets a dollar from every ticket sold.
While there are no official numbers, Blackwood says he knows of a couple of families who were able to put their kids in the game because of the draw. A couple of years ago, the parent of one young player passed away. Families in the association donated their credits to help him sign up again.
Certainly, social media has spread the word about the draw and reached ticket buyers who wouldn’t necessarily buy tickets for other fundraisers (like me). But the Sackville association puts a lot of work into this draw. Families all sell tickets. Blackwood’s wife, Leah, is the association’s 50-50 coordinator. Their two kids play minor hockey.
I think what has made our draw so successful is we have buy-in from all our members. Whatever I put into it I get out of it. You can see the benefit in your own family.
Blackwood says last season, they had a surplus of about $2,500. They’re already thinking of what to do with surpluses if the 50-50 continues to be successful.
If it goes beyond that we will look at reducing registration costs across the board. Or an investment could be made in development tools.
One of the biggest expenses is ice time. Blackwood says they pay about $250/hr for ice time. With 45 teams in the association that adds up.
I don’t know how that could change. No one is getting rich off renting ice.
It’s definitely expensive. It’s worth it from the parents’ perspective. This program is definitely a big help.
The Sackville association got the idea from Glace Bay Minor Hockey, which has had a 50-50 draw since 1994. Back then the association had a pool based on the winners of NHL games. But with the NHL lockout in 1994, the association had to look at new ways to raise money. Someone pitched the idea of a 50-50 draw. It’s now likely the largest draw of its kind for minor hockey in the country. James Edwards is the president of the Glace Bay Minor Hockey. The Glace Bay draw takes place weekly and has prizes in the tens of thousands. Each December there’s a special Christmas draw. In 2019, the winner won $198,962.50.
We are the king of the 50-50 draw.
For the run-of-the-mill, everyday Glace Bay family, it’s the 50-50 draw that makes the game more feasible. What it allows us to do is keep the costs down. Most of our kids don’t pay to play.
The Glace Bay program includes 16 teams for males, 10 for females, and this season they introduced a para-hockey program.
We’re making it an affordable sport for everyone in Glace Bay to play.
Edwards knows the costs to play are high and continue to go up. Ice time is expensive, he says, adding they pay $240/hr for 8 hours of ice time each week for 26 weeks a year. Then there are the costs to pay the officials, anywhere from three to five of them each game. Edwards says they’d like to buy new jerseys for the members of the 30 teams. He says he knows there are other programs including those with Canadian Tire and the Timbits programs, but he says for them, the draw is the winner.
The association website has a pie chart on where the money goes. After the winner is paid out, 15 cents on every dollar sold in tickets goes to ice time. Sixteen cents on every dollar sold will go to equipment and registration fees. The rest of the money pays for everything from printing, security, development, office costs, and fees for referees and other officials.
Edwards says he knows the 50-50 draw has meant increased registration, particularly for those families who couldn’t afford to sign up their kids otherwise. He knows of one family who has a few kids playing hockey because of the draw. He says the only decrease he saw in registration happened when the town’s rink closed for renovations and games and practices moved to the arena at Cape Breton University. But he says the program also allows them to offer free registration for minor players signing up for the first time.
50-50 draws are not unique to hockey and are used as fundraisers for many sports, including in Glace Bay. When hockey season is over here, another 50-50 draw takes over for the town’s little league teams.
Edwards says he often gets inquiries from other associations asking how to organize their own draws. Blackwood says he’s received emails and phone calls, too. In Nova Scotia, any 50-50 draw, including those for minor hockey, have to be licensed through the province. Organizers need a permit or a licence, depending on the draw structure and the prize amounts. All the rules are outlined with The Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division of Service Nova Scotia.
Garreth MacDonald, the communications and special events director with Hockey Nova Scotia, says they don’t assist in these draws or have a policy on them.
Edwards says the draw is a community effort. Besides the families who sell tickets, merchants ask to sell tickets in their stores. Most of the tickets are bought on Cape Breton Island. Edwards estimates 99 per cent of the winnings stay in industrial Cape Breton. Winners may buy cars, for example.
As for the Sackville draw, Blackwood says he has spoken to the winners of the larger jackpots and what it means for them.
It’s life-changing in a sense. It’s not millions of dollars in that you don’t have to not work again, but we are impacting lives.
Again, I don’t know if these draws are really addressing the issue of cost in hockey. I spoke with Sean Fitzgerald, managing editor of The Athletic, about this (Fitzgerald is also quoted in this piece from TVO about the expense of youth hockey). He says hockey used to be a sport driven by kids, who, once winter came around, put “knives on their feet” and skated. But once their parents and other adults got involved, the costs went up.
Adults can screw up anything and we’ve done a good job of screwing up competitive sports.
Fitzgerald rightly points out that many competitive sports for youth such as swimming or even competitive dance are very expensive. But hockey stands out because it has a connection to the Canadian identity.
As great as other sports are, they aren’t on the back of the five-dollar bill.
Fitzgerald isn’t familiar with the 50-50 draws here, but called it the “biggest, brightest idea” he’s heard of. He says there have always been ways to fund the expense, including hockey pools, finding sponsors to pay for jerseys, or pricey fundraising dinners. Fitzgerald says for many parents whose kids went on to the NHL, the price tag is a large one. He told me about Ken Campbell’s book Selling the Dream that mentions NHL player Matt Duchene’s parents spent more than $300,000 on his youth hockey career.
Fitzgerald says, too, hockey is not as accessible to many, including newcomers to Canada. He says when he was a kid, playing hockey or skating were part of the school’s gym program.
No matter who you were, if you went to a public school, you were exposed to hockey and skating.
There are also just more options now. Kids can simply play another sport or take part in dance or music or nothing at all.
As for the cost, Fitzgerald says there are two ways to look at it.
I’m not sure there’s an association that doesn’t acknowledge there’s an issue. The folks in charge of the game are working on solutions.
Still, he says if the costs continue to rise, it will continue to leave people out.
It may turn out to be Canada’s polo; a game for only the privileged.
Back in Sackville, Blackwood and the minor hockey association are working on the next draw, which will take place at the end of the month. Although I don’t follow hockey, I find it inspiring how communities have come together to help share the costs. Blackwood is not sure what the future of the program is and how large the jackpots will get.
I can’t see us not doing it, to be honest. We couldn’t stop it if we wanted to.
Over the last week or so, I was part of a couple of social media chats where advice was being offered by freelancers. I’ve been a freelancer for a long time. I did freelance work even when I had a full-time job. I thought I’d share some advice here.
First of all, the freelancing life is not for everyone. You have to be willing to dig for work and put yourself out there, even if you screw up, which you will. But you will likely have more successes than failures.
Find the right contacts: One of the best pieces of advice I got in journalism school was from my newspaper prof who said, “Never go to HR to get a job. Their job is to get rid of you.” She wasn’t completely crapping on HR, but pointing out if you want to find work you have to meet with the person who could be your boss. I started setting up these meetings when I moved back to Halifax from Toronto and I think I got work, mostly short-term contracts and freelance, from just about every meeting. In fact, I don’t think I ever got a job from applying for those listed on job sites. Everyone is applying for those jobs. During one of those first meetings 16 years ago, I went in several months pregnant. I don’t know if that person noticed, but he hired me several months later.
There’s an advantage to having these kinds of meetings. They are less formal than traditional job interviews and a potential boss will be more candid about the work and the organization. You will get a better sense of them as a person and you’ll figure out if they are someone you want to work with. I certainly met people I decided I didn’t want to work with and I met many more I am still in contact with today. Also, having these meetings is easier than going to a networking event and working the room. Not everyone is comfortable with that kind of networking and honestly neither am I. If you prefer meeting people one on one, setting up a meeting is the way to go.
You will have to diversify. I don’t like this word, really, but it’s kind of a necessary one in the freelance world. As a freelancer, I’ve had the opportunity to do very interesting work. But I’ve also had to mix it up to pay the bills. I do voice-over work. I wrote the content for a social media campaign for a non-profit once. Last year, I did a podcast on the gospel music in Nova Scotia. I’m also working on a very interesting research contract that uses a lot of journalism skills. Most of the freelancers I know have a wide skill set and work on all kinds of projects.
Learn how to use the phone. I don’t know where the anxiety comes from about calling people, but using the phone is part of being a freelancer. I am on the phone often. Call people to set up meetings. If you’re calling a source, be prepared to chat with them then. People are busy and may not have time to schedule an interview for another time. If you have them on the phone, make it worth it. Also related: don’t do email interviews. Use the phone, Skype, or do the interview in person.
Editors make your work better. I have worked with many great editors. I was an editor for years, too. The editing process depends on the editor and it’s not always easy. When I get a piece back that is marked with lots of changes, I will set it aside, if I have time, and come back to it with fresh eyes and a clear head. Usually, all those red editing marks make it look worse than it actually is.
I will say, though, I gave up one gig last year because of the editor. I am used to having my work edited and expect that it will be edited. Again, good editing makes your work better. But I was working with this editor for the first time. The assignment seemed pretty straightforward. Then they sent the story back with suggestions. I did the rewrites. The editor still didn’t like it. I tried again and it still wasn’t what they wanted. I was at a complete loss for how I could fix it. They gave me the option of letting them finish it off and I’d get paid half of the original rate for the work I put into it. I took it because the money wasn’t worth the time I was then putting into a 600-word piece. Writing for that publication wasn’t going to get me more work elsewhere and focusing on rewriting that one article was taking me away from other projects. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.
Also, you can’t do it all. What I love about freelancing is that I have a lot of ideas. But freelancing often means you are constantly thinking about work, the next project or story idea. That can lead to burnout and stress. Schedule time off for yourself and turn off the social media.
Ask for the money and don’t work for free. One of the biggest challenges of being a freelancer is getting paid on time. Fortunately, most of the editors and clients I’ve worked with pay within a decent amount of time. I know other freelancers who’ve waited for months to get paid. This is complete bullshit. In my experience, the clients who pay on time and pay well are generally better to work with. They give better feedback. They are more organized and are better with their own deadlines. I especially like the clients who say, “Don’t forget to send in your invoice!” Stick with those clients.
I don’t know how to fix this problem other than suggesting all freelancers working for a particular bad publisher stop writing for them. I would stop working for someone who continually didn’t pay me in a decent amount of time (I think less than 30 days is standard. I get paid in less than two weeks, if not immediately, for much of the work I do).
And never work for “exposure.” Exposure kills, right? The people asking you to work for free are not working for free. Even if you’re fresh out of school, your work has a value. Ask for the money. If a client asks for a rate, write one down. But then think about it and tack on a few more bucks. Volunteering is another thing entirely and I encourage it. I’ve made excellent contacts through volunteering that led to paid work.
You can say no to work. This seems counter-intuitive to freelancing, I know. I had to let go of some freelance projects last year. With this research contract on the go, plus several freelance gigs, I simply had too much on my plate. This is hard for me because I like to work. Of course, I gave up the gigs that paid less. You can’t do it all and for the work you have, you’ll want to do it well.
Freelancing means freedom: In one of the Twitter threads I was in on last week, someone expressed frustration with the term freelancer. I have no issue with the word. I haven’t heard many freelancers who have an issue with the word either. I suppose it’s the “free” part some people don’t like. But for me, freelancer means freedom. I get to work on so many different and interesting projects. I also get the time to research projects I’d like to do on my own. Earlier this year, another idea for a writing project came to mind. I’m researching it now. This is the freedom part I’m talking about.
Then there are all the organization, administrative, finance, and tax skills you should learn. And you have to connect with people, including other freelancers, because working from home and on your own can be isolating. Actually, to be a freelancer you have to deal with a lot of different people. You should get used to that, too.
I realize, of course, the gig economy is problematic in many ways. There’s no security, no pensions, and you’re always looking for work. I don’t have health insurance, which sucks because I’ll be 50 this year and things may start falling apart soon. I’ve had good full-time work over the years, too, so freelancing was often a way to make extra cash. It can be tough to freelance full time but it would be interesting to hear from other freelancers.
Some final thoughts: Share your advice with those just starting out.
Again, ask for the money. And to publishers and clients: Pay on time!
No public meetings.
No public events.
In the harbour
01:00: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
10:00: James Cook, research/survey vessel, sails from Old Coast Guard Base for sea
10:30: Siem Hanne, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 to Dartmouth Cove
12:00: Ef Ava, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
15:00: Venture Sea, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 26 to Dartmouth Cove outside Siem Hanne
22:00: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
This weekend, I am wrapping up a freelance project I’ve been working on for longer than I care to admit. And then I am taking a break … until the next project and next weekend.
Dollar set for another week of losses even as Fed tapering looms
The dollar was heading for a second week of declines on Friday as sentiment stayed tilted towards riskier assets, while an intervention by the Australian central bank put a halt to the Aussie dollar’s recent surge.
The dollar index was last at 93.733, little changed in Asian hours but off 0.24% on the week, as it continues its fall from a 12-month high of 94.565 hit in earlier this month.
It had managed to stem losses on Thursday, bouncing on better U.S. jobs and housing data, but the rally petered out on Friday morning in Asia, where risk sentiment was boosted news that beleaguered developer China Evergrande Group has supplied funds to pay interest on a U.S. dollar bond, averting a default.
But traders are still trying to assess whether the dollar has scope to fall further, or if this is a temporary blip on a march higher.
“People are wondering whether we are at an inflection point, as the dollar has been weakening and that doesn’t really fit with the broader narrative that global growth is cooling and the Fed is on the path to tapering, which should be supportive for the dollar,” said Paul Mackel, global head of FX research at HSBC.
On Friday, benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were at 1.6872%, slightly off from Thursday’s multi-month high of 1.7%, as markets continue to prepare themselves for an announcement by the Federal Reserve that it will start to wind down its massive bond buying programme, which is widely expected for November.
Mackel said part of the reason for the dollar’s weakness had been strong performances by currencies from most commodity exporting countries.
These were quieter on Friday, however, as traders took profits, analysts said, and energy prices softened.
Brent crude, which had risen above $86 dollars a barrel on Thursday, continued its tumble and was last at $84.10.
The Australian dollar was at $0.7475, off Thursday’s three-month top, as the boost to the China-exposed currency from Evergrande’s news was outweighed by action from the Reserve Bank of Australia to stem a bond sell off, as well as the pause in energy price rises.
The RBA said on Friday it had stepped in to defend its yield target for the first time in eight months, spending A$1 billion ($750 million) to dampen an aggressive bonds sell-off as traders have bet on inflation pulling forward rate hikes.
Also affected by energy prices, the Canadian dollar slipped to C$1.2352 per U.S. dollar, off Thursday’s C$1.2287, a level last seen in June.
The British pound paused for breath at $1.3798, off a month peak hit earlier in the week, to which it had been carried by growing expectations of an interest rate hike to combat rising inflationary pressures.
The euro was little changed at $1.1627, while the yen wobbled within sight of its multi-year lows, with one dollar worth 114.01 yen, compared with 114.69 earlier in the week, a four-year low.
China’s yuan eased against the dollar on Friday after the FX regulator warned of possible action if the currency market is hit by greater volatility following its recent rally. But the yuan still looked set for the biggest weekly gain since May.
Bitcoin was at $63,928, a little off Wednesday’s all-time high of $67,016
(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Sam Holmes and Kim Coghill)
Pandemic opens doors to switch jobs in Japan, but pay not rising much
The Covid-19 pandemic has unexpectedly helped Japan’s nursing homes and Information Technology companies overcome years of labour shortages, as job cuts at restaurants and hotels have prompted workers to look for new careers.
This newfound job mobility marks a shift in a country whose rigid labour practices are partially blamed for a long term decline in productivity.
But it is too soon to say whether the change will ultimately lead to higher wages, which are desperately needed to revive demand and growth in an economy that is still struggling to break free from decades of deflation.
For now, the job-hoppers tend to trade one low-paying career for another.
Toshiki Kurimata, who used to make 2.8 million yen ($25,000) a year as a masseur, quit after 12 years as the pandemic caused a sharp drop in customers. Now he works at a nursing care centre and is taking classes to become a registered caregiver.
With that qualification, he expects to earn around 3.3 million yen – an increase of about 18%. The even bigger attraction, he says, is job stability.
“I like working in nursing care and it’s stable,” Kurimata said. “There aren’t age limits on the work and you can find work even if, like me, you are inexperienced.”
Experts aren’t sure whether the job-switching will remain limited to certain industries or become a broader trend.
It is also uncertain whether job switching will continue once the pandemic dies down, although anecdotal evidence suggests people will keep leaving food-service jobs for nursing and IT.
Japan expects to have a shortage of 690,000 care workers by 2040, a tough gap to fill given the rapidly ageing population.
OECD data put Japan’s hourly labour productivity at $47.9, making it about 60% of the United States’ level, the worst among the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies, and 21st
among the 37 OECD members as of 2019.
And the prospect of people being stuck in low income jobs poses a big challenge for Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has pledged to bring more wealth to households via higher wages.
“COVID-19 fallouts are pushing low-paid workers into even harder situations with little, or no, increase in pay,” said Hisashi Yamada, senior economist at Japan Research Institute.
Hospitality businesses have laid off workers, with the number of employees falling to 3.9 million in 2020 from the prior year’s 4.2 million, labour ministry data shows.
By contrast, the medical and health industry saw employees hitting 8.6 million, up 200,000 from 2019. The IT sector hired 2.4 million employees, up 100,000 from 2019.
Vocational training schools have benefited.
SAMURAI, which offers IT training, had 1.7 times more students enrolled as of April 2021 compared with a year earlier, as employees retrenched during the pandemic rushed to retrain.
Most IT jobs on offer for inexperienced workers are for programmers, on the lowest rung of the IT ladder, but they generally still pay more than can be earned in hospitality.
The average annual salary for employees at restaurants and nursing homes amounts to roughly 3 million yen, 30% less than an average Japanese workers’ salary, government data shows. IT programmers earn close to the national average.
“I saw how popular the IT sector was and thought I may land a stable job,” said Koki Shimizu, a 22-year-student at SAMURAI who lost his job as a chef and now is learning to program.
At Crie, which offers training in nursing care, classes that were only two-thirds full before the pandemic are now packed out.
The company’s head Takayuki Nakayama expects the uptrend to continue given steady job offers in the nursing care industry.
“It’s true wages are relatively low in the nursing-care industry. But many job-seekers want stability after seeing the damage inflicted on eateries and other service-sector firms.”
Retailers are also becoming alarmed over losing staff, as they are counting on a rebound in activity as Japan gradually eases COVID-19 restrictions.
Major Japanese pub chain operator Watami is scrambling to hire 100 mid-career staff this year – something it has not done for three years – and it reckons that eventually it may have to pay more.
“1,000 yen per hour may not be enough, 1,500 yen may be needed to attract workers in the future,” said the company’s chief executive Miki Watanabe.
For now, firms are wary of raising pay as the economy is still struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
($1 = 114.0100 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Leika Kihara, David Dolan & Simon Cameron-Moore)
Pfizer-BioNTech report high efficacy of COVID boosters in study – Al Jazeera English
The companies say phase III trial data show booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine was 95.6 percent effective against the disease.
American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have said data from a Phase III trial demonstrated high efficacy of a booster dose of their COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus, including the Delta variant.
They said a trial of 10,000 participants aged 16 or older showed 95.6 percent effectiveness against the disease, during a period when the Delta strain was prevalent.
The study also found that the booster shot had a favourable safety profile.
Pfizer had said its two-shot vaccine’s efficacy drops over time, citing a study that showed 84 percent effectiveness from a peak of 96 percent four months after a second dose. Some countries had already gone ahead with plans to give booster doses.
The drugmakers said the median time between the second dose and the booster shot or the placebo in the study was about 11 months, adding that there were only five cases of COVID-19 in the booster group, compared with 109 cases in the group which received the placebo shot.
“These results provide further evidence of the benefits of boosters as we aim to keep people well-protected against this disease,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
The median age of the participants was 53 years, with 55.5 percent of participants between 16 and 55 years, and 23.3 percent at 65 years or older.
The companies said they would submit detailed results of the trial for peer-reviewed publication to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency, and other regulatory agencies as soon as possible.
The US and European regulators have already authorised a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc for patients with compromised immune systems who are likely to have weaker protection from the two-dose regimens.
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