Time to end Canada’s temporary foreign worker program
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
April 25, 2014. Martin Collacott
The time has come for the federal government to admit that the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program is clearly not working, and put an end to it. Limited components of the program are justified — for example, facilitating the temporary entry under NAFTA of businesspeople from the United States and Mexico who are involved in the trade of goods or services, or in investment activities, which provide reciprocal benefits for Canadians. What is obviously not working in the interests of Canadians is the large-scale import of low-skilled workers in the service sector, and particularly in fast food outlets.
Employers in these areas complain that they can’t find enough Canadians to do the jobs that need to be filled. The fact is, however, that they can’t find local people to do the work at the wages being offered. As Employment Minister Jason Kenney told a meeting of British Columbia business leaders in November, the way to solve labour shortages is to raise wages.
It is highly debatable, moreover, whether Canada is, in fact, facing anything more than perfectly normal labour shortages. The Bank of Montreal and the Toronto-Dominion Bank released studies last year concluding that widespread labour and skills shortages were a myth — that whatever skills shortages do exist are isolated and likely no greater than a decade ago. Just last month, moreover, the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that, while there were pockets of labour “tightness” in some sectors and regions, Canada is not experiencing significant job or skills shortages.
The reason why employers prefer TFWs over Canadians is that the former are essentially indentured labour. The vast majority of low-wage workers from abroad are from poorer areas of the world and will do almost anything to avoid losing their positions with the employers who brought them here and to whom they are tied. They are therefore vulnerable by the very nature of their contracts to exploitation of one sort or another.
One solution that has been suggested to reduce their vulnerability is to provide them with a clear path to permanent residency, so they do not have to worry about losing their status in this country. This, however, is not a solution that is in the interests of Canadians. Allowing low-skilled workers to remain here on a permanent basis is what immigration experts have described as “importing poverty” — because these workers can then bring in family members who will consume far more in public services than they pay in taxes. They would be likely to form a new underclass of impoverished Canadians.
Yet another factor that has to be considered in connection with the TFW program is that many who come here would like to stay permanently because of the much higher wages available in Canada than in their home countries. There is a distinct possibility, therefore, that many will choose to stay here illegally when their contracts expire — which would create another series of problems for Canada.
Canadians are well aware that there are already large numbers of people in the country who are unemployed and prepared to work for reasonable wages. These include unemployed youth, aboriginals, recent immigrants and people laid off from the manufacturing industry. Public opinion is, therefore, increasingly in favour of a drastic reduction in the temporary foreign worker program. The sooner the government takes action on this, the better.
Martin Collacott is secretary of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform in Vancouver.
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