I’m not a fan of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. It is not fair to the immigrants that it purports to help, and it is not fair to Canadian citizens who are looking for work at a fair wage and cannot find it.
There are a few things that bother me about this program, and most of them involve the sheer hypocrisy of the proponents. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are responsible for this mess, both have had their hands in the program over the years. However, the NDP I suspect would not be much better on this file. Both sides have their reasons to support the program, although purely political. When it comes down to it, from a purely philosophical position, it goes against all parties’ values.
The Conservative position has always been the position that the free-market should be allowed to exist and prosper with little government interference. The mantra of small-c conservatives has always been “let the market decide”. It is widely considered the number one rule of conservatism. The government should stay out of the way of business. Go to the food or retail sectors and suggest that something needs to be regulated or inspected more and people will say that the industry should be able to self-regulate. If consumers do not like it, they will find another company for the goods and services they want, and the demand for that company’s products will go away. Again and again the laws of supply and demand are used to keep government interference as low as possible. The Conservatives are the owner’s of this mantra, but the Liberals, being a center-right party, often buy into the same argument.
It’s not a bad argument. Let the market decide is usually a good way to go. The government should try to keep its interference as low as possible. As long as companies are acting ethically, treating their employees with respect, paying a living or competitive wage, and producing safe and effective products, governments should just stay out of the picture. I understand that and agree with it.
This is where the TFWP makes no sense to me. If a company cannot find workers for its business at the wage it is offering, then a company should raise its wages until it can find workers that are willing to work for it. That is how supply and demand works. You have a high demand for workers and a low supply, then you have to pay more for workers. If you run a meat packing plant, you cannot expect people to work for you at the same pay rate as people who are working at the local fast food place. Your work is harder work and you therefore have to pay more. That is how the free market works, live with it, you helped create it.
Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says in a CBC article, “Retail, restaurant margins are already razor thin. I fully expect that particularly across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, there will be restaurant closures as a result of this, taking Canadian jobs with them.”
Of course Mr. Kelly is being disingenuous. He statement tries to blame razor thin margins as the catalyst of the current situation. What he is essentially saying is this, “We have to hire temporary foreign workers because Canadians would want higher wages and we cannot afford that because we charge too little for our products already.” Why is it the responsibility of the Canadian government if a restaurant is charging too little for its product to stay in business? Essentially, he is saying that his members are poor managers.
The big argument I always hear is how greedy Canadian workers are. How they don’t want to do anything or expect the world on a silver platter. That is generally not my experience. Canadians are hard workers, and all they ask of their job is that it pays a living wage. Sure, we have some stragglers, but all societies do. Mostly all Canadians want is a sense of fairness. Pay me what I deserve for a job well done and I’ll do it. And there is the problem, that deal has been broken.
Around here, the example brought up is our local hog processing plant. It is often stated how hard it is for the facility to find local workers, and that is why a foreign worker program was needed. In fact, our Mayor goes on about that in an article from Saturday’s National Post.
“The majority of day shift at Maple Leaf’s Brandon facility was staffed with local and regional hires, but there was never quite enough employees to run the plant at optimum efficiency, and no capacity within the regional labour force to staff a second shift, which was essential for the plant’s viability. There was no doubt that the local and regional labour market was not going to provide the workers needed for this demanding, physical work, regardless of how much the company paid, or how many additional benefits were offered.”
So, what Mayor Decter Hirst seems to be claiming here is that either the company didn’t have any foresight into the realities of the Brandon and Westman labour market, or that they did know and were planning on recruiting elsewhere from the start. I personally have no idea what Maple Leaf Foods plans were for Brandon and area, and I would like to think that they truly believed that they could find enough workers here. Was their research of the Brandon labour market that flawed? Did it exist? Were they just going by assurances of the local politicians at the time?
I do find it interesting that the exact same scenario has played out in town after town since Iowa Beef Packers, now Tyson Fresh Meats, first started lowering meat packing wages in the 1960s.
Here’s the thing that really bothers me about this program, and the Mayor’s love letter to Maple Leaf in the National Post, it goes against her self-claimed NDP roots. I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone in the NDP can support the TFWP.
I’m not talking about just our local situation here, all I see with this program is a continuation of the exploitation of the foreign worker that has been going on since the day of the building of the trans-continental railroad. You bring in a foreign worker to do a job. Sure, you pay them minimum wage or just above to do the job, so you feel good about yourself. To me that’s not enough. Many of these workers must stay in the job that they came over to do, even if someone was to offer them a job that paid more, was more in their field, or that fit them better. If the worker cannot leave the current employer for a better position, then how is that not indebted servitude? Just because you are paying someone does not mean you’re not treating them as a slave.
A couple weeks ago the CBC Radio program, Cross Country Checkup, had the TFWP as its topic. One caller ran a restaurant in a rural prairie town. Apparently the only way that they could keep in business was to have temporary foreign workers running the kitchen, as hometown people kept leaving the town. It never occurred to her that perhaps if the only way that she could keep her business open was to bring in people who couldn’t leave, maybe her business was no longer viable; maybe her town is not either.
Cross Country Checkup
Is there a place for temporary foreign workers in Canada’s economy?
Taking advantage of someone’s poor job prospects in their home country does not make you a saint. If you believe in the free market, it makes you a hypocrite, plain and simple.
This is why I cannot understand the article written by Shari Decter Hirst. I’m not sure, despite being mayor, that she actually understands the situation. She says near the end of the article,
“Canada would be far better off to adopt Brandon’s approach of treating foreign workers as transitional workers and recruiting these individuals into secure jobs with opportunities to bring their families over. In my experience, these reunited families are focused on building a strong community for their children.”
I agree with her, Canada would be far better off to adopt such a policy, but that is not what Brandon has. I have always been in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. My argument is that if someone is good enough to be a temporary foreign worker, then they are good enough to be a landed immigrant and get to choose, like any other Canadian, where they want to live and work. Forcing them to work at one place, all the time fearing possible deportation, does not make for fair treatment. How is one supposed to advocate for fair working conditions and fair pay, the two hallmarks of the labour movement and of the NDP, if the employer holds all the cards?
It’s not a fair game, it’s stacked too much in favour of industry. It’s also not very Canadian, at least not the Canada I would want.