Robyn Benson, PSAC

Temporary foreign workers: nobody wins but employers

Laid off workers tfwp.jpg

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is back in the news—sort of. Readers might remember a piece I did last May, after the Royal Bank of Canada had been shamed into keeping Canadian workers instead of replacing them with offshore “temporary” ones. At the time, the Harper government pledged to reform the program, making it clear that the purpose of the TFWP was to fill labour shortages, not to replace Canadians on the job or looking for work.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • The Temporary Foreign Worker Program helps fill genuine and acute labour needs when Canadians are not available.
  • Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.
  • The program is being reviewed to ensure that Canadians have the first crack at available jobs.

The courts have not been kind to unions who have challenged obvious abuses, however. When a Chinese company decided to open a mine in British Columbia earlier this year, it made speaking Mandarin a “job requirement.” Then it applied to hire “temporary foreign workers” under the TFWP. No problem. The courts threw out a union legal challenge, although a new one has just been mounted.

Despite “reforms” to the TFWP, abuses are continuing. The right to hire temporary foreign workers for 15% less than the going wage has been abolished, but there are other ways of squeezing those workers. In Fernie, BC, allegations have been made that a local Tim Horton’s manager has been forcing imported employees to kick back overtime, and to pay for paperwork. After the BC Federation of Labour kicked up a fuss, the RCMP opened a file on the case: their investigations are continuing. I suspect that this is only the tip of the iceberg in the fast-food industry. There have certainly been other reports of vicious shakedowns by employers.

In this situation, no worker wins: out-of-work Canadians or the easily-exploited cannon fodder that employers prefer to bring in from abroad.

As of last year, 491,547 “temporary” workers were on the job here. Canadian citizens and permanent residents are now effectively being de-skilled by this ever-expanding program: employers have far less incentive to train local workers when they can get more for less by recruiting offshore. It’s a low-wage strategy, in full bloom.

Once in Canada, low-skilled temporary foreign workers may not apply for permanent residency. But those who become skilled on the job may do so. Even here, however, cruel tricks are played. If these would-be immigrants aren’t actually filling jobs for which out-of-work Canadians are available—as claimed—then why are they being denied the opportunity to gain permanent residency status?

The government can’t have it both ways.

What is the current reality? Check out this report. Oddly enough, the commercial media have all but ignored this story: 270 skilled Albertan tradespeople were told in September that their jobs were gone. They were replaced by an equal number of temporary foreign workers, from Portugal, Ireland and Italy. That would obviously fly in the face of the assurances from Employment and Social Development Canada, but it happened, and the employer, Husky Energy, was unrepentant about it. So much for the claims by the Harper government earlier this year that everything had been fixed.

Although first reported in a local paper, it was left to BC-based The Tyee to break open this scandal, which includes a concerted federal government cover-up of information about the TFWP, including a new TFWP initiative called the Canada-Alberta pilot project—one that has been left almost completely unregulated and which likely paved the way for the dismissal of those 270 tradespeople. The article was written by Jeremy Nuttall, a senior reporter at 24 hours Vancouver who has worked for the CDC and Canadian Press. His piece is only the first in a series, and I advise folks to stay tuned—his next one will appear in January.

In the meantime, there is one thing we can be sure of. TFWP workers may indeed be temporary: the program, however, is anything but. So much for the cheerful government propaganda that you and I helped to pay for.

EAP propaganda.jpg

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on December 23, 2013 8:30 AM.

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