Temporary foreign worker flood to continue
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Flooding Canada with foreign temporary workers drives down wages, robs Canadians of jobs and creates a two-tier society.
May 02 2013. By: Haroon Siddiqui, Columnist
Governments rarely acknowledge mistakes. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has managed, with the help of a dictation-taking media, to shift blame for the mess in the temporary foreign worker program onto employers. But they did only what they were allowed to do — hire guest workers from abroad, in droves, even as the economy was going down after 2008.
The government is responsible for this boondoggle.
Flooding Canada with foreign temps drives down wages, robs Canadians of jobs and creates a two-tier society — as in Germany, with its debilitating economic, social and political consequences.
Canada should not be importing poor guest workers, period. If we need workers, we should bring them as immigrants. Ottawa should learn to process immigrant applicants as efficiently as it has been ushering foreign temps in.
Kenney’s new rule ending the wage differential between foreign and domestic workers is welcome. So is the provision that only English or French can be used as a job requirement. So is the suspension (which should have been a termination) of fast-tracking foreign worker visas, a process that Ottawa let get out of hand.
But his other changes are a PR exercise to placate outraged Canadians.
Notice how he has not announced any reduction in the number of foreign workers, estimated officially at 338,000 as of December last year but unofficially at 500,000.
“The government sets absolute targets for the number of permanent immigrants per year and also refugees, yet there’s still no limit on temporary foreign workers,” notes Naomi Alboim of Queen’s University, an immigration expert.
Notice also how there’s no change in the program’s most reviled feature — the mass importing of foreign temps by restaurants and others in the service sector, even though the scheme was ostensibly designed mainly to ease high-skill shortages.
Notice, too, there’s not a word about improving the working conditions of the temporary workers, who are subject to much abuse, especially in the agricultural sector.
No word also on how many temporary foreign workers could apply for landed immigrant status, so that both they and Canadians ultimately benefit from their work experience here. Nor is there a commitment to rigorously enforce the rules.
Kenney’s “reforms” are anything but.
He says employers hiring foreign help must have “a firm plan” to transition to a Canadian labour force. But anyone can write a plausible plan.
Employers would be allowed to hire a Canadian “over time.” Why no time frame — say, by the end of a visa for a temp?
Ottawa would shift its $35.5-million a year cost of processing applications onto employers. But it doesn’t say how it would ensure that the costs are not passed onto the workers.
Agricultural employers would have even less oversight.
For decades, farmers have been bringing temps under the seasonal agricultural workers program, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean, for up to eight months a year. Under bilateral arrangements, the workers are screened by their own governments. And their embassies in Canada monitor minimum working conditions here.
But lately, employers — especially those in year-round businesses, such as greenhouses — have been shifting their labour onto the temporary foreign workers program. The latter issues visas up to four years and has less monitoring.
This increases the chances of the workers being exploited even more, says journalist Jeffrey Carter of Dresden, Ont., who writes on agricultural issues.
The only provision in the new changes that applies to the agricultural sector is the one where Ottawa promises to revoke the permission given employers to hire temporary workers in case of abuses.
But Ottawa is not likely to know of abuses any more now than it did before. It has not allocated any new resources, such as inspectors to do on-site inspections. It will continue to rely on employee complaints.
“No employee is going to rat on their employer so long as their status depends on that employer,” says Alboim. If a worker is brave enough to complain and Ottawa suspends an employer’s permit, Ottawa would also end up revoking the poor worker’s work permit, since the latter is tied to the former. And she would get deported.
This is precisely how it works in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab countries.
“The work permit should not be employer-specific but sector specific,” suggests Alboim. “An employee should have the right to complain about her working conditions and also to be able to get another job in the same sector.”
What we’ve just seen from Kenney is yet another of his smoke-and-mirror shows. We could still end up with a high number of temporary foreign workers, who, besides being exploited, will continue to squeeze Canadians and permanent residents out of scarce jobs.
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