Stop importing temporary workers into Canada
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – By importing temporary foreign workers, the Harper government has allowed the creation of a Third World in Canada.
Apr 21 2013. By: Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist
You are in Dubai or any other city in the oil-rich Arabian/Persian Gulf region. It is blistering hot. The only human beings you see are on construction sites. They are the people brought in under the local version of the temporary foreign workers program, mostly from low-wage Third World nations. At the end of their shift, they go to bunk in the temporary accommodations they share with other workers. They have no families — they are not allowed to bring any. At the end of their temporary visa, they must go home. If they don’t, they are picked up in periodic crackdowns and put on planes. When they get back home, they often find that their families, especially their children, are estranged from them.
You are in a Berlin parkette. You see, besides the seniors and the moms with babies, middle-aged men and women on benches, talking, whiling away the time. They are German Turks. They had come as guest workers. They were supposed to have gone back home. Few did. This being Germany, they didn’t get deported. Now they live in the in-between world of Germany (which did not give most of them citizenship) and Turkey (which they visit but where they no longer belong). They constitute a German underclass that’s resented by Germans.
Those are two examples of the same phenomenon — temporary workers. The arrangement suits both the workers and the host society, in the short term. But it is exploitative of the former and debilitating to the latter, in that it creates a two-tier society, of varying severity and duration.
Canada limited the use of temporary workers. Seasonal farm workers come from Latin America or the Caribbean and go back home, mostly under the supervision of their sponsor. Foreign nannies come on contract but, unlike the fruit and vegetable pickers, are allowed to apply for and get landed immigrant status.
Now Canada is flooded with temporary workers — 338,189 as of December 2012. In fact, there may be more. Ottawa has no way of knowing how many stayed behind at the end of their temporary visas. Canada has no exit controls.
They were all brought in ostensibly because of extensive skilled labour shortages.
But with 1.33 million jobless, there’s no shortage of labour for the 250,000 job vacancies. That’s nearly six jobless Canadians for every available job.
As for skills shortages, there are certainly some. But look at where the temporary workers landed, as the Globe and Mail has done.
Its sector-by-sector breakdown shows that only 9,300 of the 338,000 workers ended up in scientific and technical services. Less than 17,000 are in the manufacturing sector, and only 19,000 in construction. The highest number, 44,745, are in accommodation and food services.
That’s your foreign worker pouring coffee at Tim Hortons, baking pizzas at Boston Pizza, making beds at some motel and tending to a senior citizen somewhere.
How much skill do you need for such jobs? The real issue is that Canadians don’t want those jobs, certainly not at the wages on offer. So the skills shortages mantra is a bit of a scam.
At the high end of the skills spectrum, a different proposition is at work, as seen at RBC. High-tech jobs are shipped overseas or contracted to a Canadian company that gets the job done overseas. Costs go down, profits go up and up, as do CEO compensations (in RBC’s case, $7.5 billion last year and Gord Nixon’s package, $12.6 million).
Now we know what was meant by business “competitiveness,” “flexibility,” “nimbleness,” etc.
Nothing wrong with businesses earning higher profits — but should we be helping them do it at the expense of rattling the foundations of Canada?
There are global forces at work, no question. But what the Stephen Harper government has done is to allow the creation of a bit of a Third World in Canada.
Reacting to the public furor, Harper has implied that business has been misusing the temporary visa program. In fact, it is doing what it has been allowed to do. Indeed, Ottawa approved 80 per cent of those visas.
In Australia, a similar program got out of hand, with the number of temporary foreign workers rising to 125,000. The government tightened the regulations. Harper is promising the same.
But given the extent of the problem here, Ottawa should end the temporary worker program — forthwith — and forbid businesses from paying 15 per cent less to those already here.
That would force employers to pay what they must to attract Canadians to unattractive jobs, and also invest time and money in developing high-end skills among Canadians, especially the young.
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