Temporary Foreign Workers

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Canadians for a Sustainable Society deals mainly with the structural issues that influence our national health. However, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program hits on so many of the misguided policies which are leading the country on a downward spiral that we felt we had to address this program specifically.

The reasons for creating a very limited TFW program are justifiable but the breadth and size of the program has wildly exceeded any responsible parameters.

From 2006 to 2012, there have been 1.3 million new jobs created in Canada of which 980,000 were full time. In that same period, the number of temporary foreign workers has risen 270,000 from 220,000 to 490,000 which represents 28% of the total number of new jobs created in the country. More importantly it represented almost 40% of the new full-time jobs created in the country.

The increase in the number of Temporary Foreign Workers was more than 80% higher than the total number of new full-time jobs created for Canadian workers up to the age of 29.

If unemployment was at an all-time low and real wages were increasing and debt was going down, the number of TFWs in the country would not be a burning question. However, unemployment and underemployment are very high, particularly among young people. In Ontario, the percentage of people working minimum wage jobs has gone up 500% in the past 17 years. Personal debt has also gone up 500% since the 1960s while real wages have basically flat-lined.

From the perspective of human welfare or fiscal sustainability, this is not the environment one would choose to expand with a large numbers of TFWs. But policy makers have done exactly that. It is incredible that in a very poor labour market, people charged with the responsibility of improving Canadian well-being and maintaining fiscal balance would allow and even promote the displacement of Canadians by cheaper foreign workers.

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n 2010, Canada lost approximately 100,000 total jobs. In 2009, Canada lost over 350,000 full time jobs. In each of 2009 and 2010, the TFW program allowed 30,000 new workers in the country to fill jobs, the vast majority of which Canadians were perfectly capable of doing.

But TFWs come mostly from poorer countries and are willing to work for less money, in poorer working conditions and live in more marginal accommodations than Canadians. Therefore, less scrupulous employers and those with business models which have no legitimate reason to exist in Canada import foreign labour to undercut Canadians.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program as it stands is either a subsidy of inefficient business models or a direct transfer of wealth to some business owners from the public and private purses of the Canadians.

In the 15 to 24 age bracket, full-time employment actually went down by between 2002 and 2014 and young people are the ones who are suffering the most in the job market with an unemployment level of over 13%. The difficulty this generation of workers is having is reflected in the high debt levels, unstable employment and postponement and disruption of major life decisions.

Of course, clear cases can be made for the necessity of hiring people from outside the country in specific situations. Where there is no Canadian available or one that could be trained within 1 year, then vital positions could be filled by foreign workers on a temporary basis. To prevent any exploitation of a responsible TFW Program by unscrupulous businesses seeking to undercut the pay of its workforce, the employment contract of a TFW would contain the following conditions:

  1. That the rate of pay of the TFW be 150% of the normal Canadian wage rate for a similar position.

  2. That the employer pay an additional housing allowance which would provide accommodation for the TFW commensurate with the position. The employer would have no connection with the provision of the housing.

  3. That the term of employment be limited to two years.

  4. A specific training program for a Canadian worker be created to fill the job for the long term.

By these terms, truly vital positions could be filled and there would be a direct incentive to hire and train Canadians. But that is not what we have now. Currently, the Canadian TFW program merely shovels more labour into a very weak labour market at the request of businesses who have forgotten the concept of responsible corporate behaviour.

Canada has a dismal record of improving the productivity and wage rates of its workforce. The obsession with economic growth at any social or fiscal (or environmental) cost permeates all levels of our policy institutions from media corporations to the Senate.

It isn’t that Canada does not spend a great deal on education or that our investment levels are non-existent, the fact is we have the fastest growing labour force in the developed world and the flood of new entries completely overwhelms the resource we allocate to train and equip our labour force properly. The TFW program is simply the most extreme example of 50 years of corrupt and negligent labour and social policy.

Of course, Canada has lost hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs overseas which has contributed to both unemployment and lower wages. But what really sets Canada apart from the vast majority of developed countries is its exceptionally high rate of immigration. Many decades of continuously high levels of cheap labour coming into the country has both lowered wages and expanded the ranks of the unemployed, the mis-employed, the under-employed, the self-employed and idle discouraged workers.

Unemployment is not just about those actively seeking work, but also those whose skills are wasted in minimally productive jobs for fractions of a normal workweek.

The two latest studies below on the issues of poverty and the working poor. They are not projections or models but simply reports on one aspect of the fallout from 50 years of an expansionist high immigration / cheap labour policy. Instead of providing high quality employment for Canadian workers, Canada’s national policies have been aimed at simple “growth” of the GDP with human welfare falling where it may. Very poor utilization of our human resources has manifested itself in a flood of low wage jobs and high levels of poverty. More workers do not mean a better workforce any more than a larger GDP means fiscal balance or lower levels of inequality.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program exemplifies what has been wrong with Canada’s social policies of the last 2 generations. It can only be made a benefit for Canadians if it is completely re-written in the context of a national focus on improving the incomes and employment opportunities of all Canadians.

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