Saturday, 8 February 2014

Temporary Foreign Workers

I’ve been reading on and off over the past year about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) programme.  Everything I learn about the programme makes me question why Canada not only allows it but encourages employers to use it.

My understanding of the programme is that it allows Canadian employers to recruit foreigners where Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available, for example in the case of situations like agricultural enterprises, where employers will need a large labour force for a short period of time in the autumn.  The TFW programme allows employers to take advantage of an international migrant workforce to bring in the harvest cheaply.  I also understand that TFW is used for musicians and other performers to allow them to get paid for their performances.  All well and good (if exploitive, in the case of agricultural workers), and limited to a few weeks employment (that is, temporary).

However, many of the current TFW employers are recruiting for positions that are not temporary, such as workers in restaurants (especially fast-food restaurants) and retail operations.  The employers claim that they are unable to find Canadian workers for the wages that they are prepared to offer, and on that basis are able to obtain a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) that will allow them to import workers via TFW.

I guess the argument in favour of the LMOs is that what is good for the employer is good for the economy, and that overall, Canada will benefit.  I don’t see it that way.  I see that employers are able to employ workers for lower wages than are available in the local market.  This allows them to provide downward pressure on the wages that are offered overall.  Instead of Smith’s so-called invisible hand balancing out the workers’ need for a living wage with the employers’ need for affordable business costs (wages paid), employers get to choose what they will pay, and effectively get to tilt the whole balance in their favour as they can go elsewhere for low-cost workers if local workers don’t bend to their demands.

Participants in the TFW often get lower pay and far fewer benefits than their Canadian counterparts.  They are not motivated to participate in the community, as they are temporary and will depart as soon as their contracts end.  They are instead motivated to conserve as much income as possible, live as cheaply as possible, and in general minimize the amount that they spend in the community, whether through rents, purchasing food or other goods or entertainment.  As they are paid less, their payroll taxes are less.  Generally, they take income out of the community almost as much as if their work itself was outsourced.

However, at the same time that the TFW workers are taking from the community, they are generally living uncomfortable lives.  Anecdotal evidence is that living conditions involve overcrowded living conditions and little access or even understanding of potential benefits.  On top of this, the workers are quite vulnerable, as many do not understand their rights, and even if they do, they may fear to stand up to employers for fear of termination.  There are certainly credible stories available of widespread abuse of foreign workers.

To the powers that be - please stop giving LMOs for permanent positions.  If an employer wants workers for his fast food restaurant or to stock the shelves at his retail shop, let him compete for workers - by offering a fair wage to workers already in Canada, not by exporting the work overseas.

And I don't even want to get started on this:

Canadian Army new rank insignia revisited

I've finally seen an image of what the new/old Canadian Army officers' rank insignia will look like, and I have to admit that I am underwhelmed.  The most obviously flaw is that majors and warrant officers will both have the same insignia - except, of course, that the WO will have a LARGER crown.  If I were still in, I'd probably start saluting WOs just to stir up trouble (sorry, warrant, I thought you were a major!).  They've also eliminated the maple leaves from the general officers insignia.  To me that's very disappointing - the maple leaf pips were distinctly Canadian, but left little room for confusion as to general officer grade, even with our allies.  

Oh, well, I guess we're stuck with it.  Next up - revert to RAF ranks and insignia for the air force?  What ho, jolly squiffing good time, I say there pilot officer, eh?  Rather, wing commander, bally Gerry pranged his kite in the how's your father and now squadron leader Biggles bought the farm, what?  Progress, ya gotta love it.