Canada can’t let labour mobility create an underclass of TFWs

Posted on October 30, 2015 in Policy Context – ROB/Commentary
Oct. 16, 2015.   Armine Yalnizyan

Armine Yalnizyan is senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks in early October unleashed a torrent of talk about trade’s impact on Canadian jobs, particularly in the auto and dairy sectors. Less attention has been paid to the terms of the deal that govern labour mobility, which could affect virtually every sector of Canada’s job market, and jeopardize the ability of Canada’s next generation of workers to develop their skills and flourish.

As U.S. President Barack Obama has said, the TPP is rewriting the rules of business for the 21st century, including those with respect to labour mobility. Half of the 12 negotiating countries have large economies and aging populations, and the other half are populated by younger people with fewer opportunities. Labour mobility is an obvious solution to this apparent labour imbalance in the global market. But it’s crucial that we decide whether this happens through recourse to temporary, precarious work, or through a more just pathway of immigration leading to citizenship.

We like to think of economic migration as people coming to Canada to live, work and eventually become full citizens. While this still happens, it has been eclipsed by growth in temporary migration through two main government streams: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and the International Mobility Program (IMP). Under the first, an employer looking to import workers from outside the country must prove that doing so does not displace qualified Canadian workers. No such assessment is required under the IMP.

In 2006, there were 54,000 TFWP active permits on Dec. 31, growing to 95,100 permits in 2014 (after peaking at more than 112,500 workers in 2009). Foreign workers resident in Canada under the IMP grew from 83,500 in 2006 to 259,500 in 2014. In stark contrast, the number of traditional economic immigrants only grew from 138,000 to 165,000 during the same period. We have more than tripled our intake of foreign workers, but two-thirds of these workers cannot stay.

Intracorporate transfers have been a fact of life in Canada’s branch-plant economy for decades. Traditionally, the program was used to bring in business executives, professionals and highly skilled workers for short periods to enhance Canadian operations of multinational businesses. But all that’s changing. Intracorporate transfers are now one of the three fastest-growing categories within the IMP.

A firestorm erupted when IT workers at Royal Bank of Canada were asked to train temporary foreign workers from India who would eventually be doing their jobs overseas. It triggered a high-profile overhaul of the rules in the TFWP, but the workers at the heart of that story didn’t enter through that program. They were considered intracorporate transfers: RBC was not required to do an assessment of the impact the use of temporary foreign workers would have on Canadian employment. This is happening throughout the Western world. In Europe, multinational companies are using intracorporate transfers to import workers from low-wage jurisdictions to work in high-wage jurisdictions. Latvian workers earning a fraction of the local wage in Swedish sawmills are just one example. (On top of the TPP, Canada has signed a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU that includes similar labour-mobility provisions.)

The underlying market dynamics of population aging should mean that young workers are poised to finally see some advantages in the world of work: more job opportunities, and higher wages or benefits to attract and retain employees in a context of widespread labour shortages. But as trade deals and immigration policies favour temporary foreign workers over homegrown workers, more churn is added to labour markets. The shorter the term of employment, the more competition for every opening.

Although the TPP creates some new job opportunities for Canadians in Pacific Rim countries, these will be short-term and sector-specific, whereas the impact of this deal on most Canadian workers could be long-term and diffuse.

With 15 side deals still being negotiated, its scope is yet to be defined. We need to pay careful attention to these details before either the TPP, or the CETA, is ratified. Their impact on Canadians will be more subtle and profound than anything we’ve dealt with before; we will need to be vigilant if these deals are to avoid fostering a growing class of the permanently temporary and erode the meaning of citizenship.

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One Response to “Canada can’t let labour mobility create an underclass of TFWs”

  1. Somi says:

    我只是說經濟學會相信效率 沒有說我認為這就是真理 一個中六學生已經有能力指出這句話的錯誤 那得看你如何界定錯誤 買賣雙方可以干預市場 其他人不可以 否則便拖低經濟效率 這只是經濟理論 對於一般經濟學家來說 理論的正確與否 視乎在特定的假設下 在此討論中 其中重關鍵的假設是pecrfet competition 邏輯是否一致 至於實證上有否支持則是另一問題 不錯 pecrfet competition這假設並不現實 我不會用 錯誤 來形容 所以後來經濟學家發現制度/政府的重要 但不表示經濟學家支持政府干預 或推翻laissez-faire的原則 很多經濟學家認為政府的角色 是維持競爭公平 亦即是透過政府來實現 或盡力靠近 pecrfet competition 所以有你所說的 公平競爭法 或在美國的反壟斷法 前題依然是pecrfet competition 依然是效率 如何維持競爭公平 政府無須積極干預 只須擔當仲裁的角色便可 情況就像一場球賽中的球證 是球證 不是教練 以上一切 都是理論 現實當然複雜很多 請不要拿你的見聞來質問我 或者俗一點 來大我 世上不是只有你才有這些閱歷 我之所以討論理論 只因我欣賞你在思考上的用功 你似乎嘗試比別人走多一步 在理論上擊倒經濟學 但若你要在理論上擊倒它 你一定要遵守理論的遊戲規則 邏輯的一致性 所以我才詢問你之前的種種 可惜 最後你又返回實證上找支持 質問我知道香港有沒有哪條法律什麼的 這是否算對先前的你的背叛 坦白說 我很怕在文字上表達對人的關愛 不以文字表達不表示不關愛 而時刻掛在口邊又不表示真心關注 想起許多政客 魯迅的小說也沒有呼天搶地的叫關注中華民族啊


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