Thursday, August 25, 2016

The TFW Program

The Liberals have vowed to reform the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. John McCallum is making noises about developing a pathway to citizenship for them. But the program is a minefield because it was developed as a sop to business. Its raison d'etre was to keep labour costs low across the country. Tom Walkom writes:

The problem the Trudeau government faces is that the temporary foreign workers program in any guise is a low-wage strategy.

When businesses say they can’t find qualified labour what they usually mean is that they can’t find anyone at the wage they are willing — or able — to pay.

Appearing before the Commons human resources committee this spring, representatives of the meat packing industry said they must bring in foreign workers because native-born Canadians just aren’t interested in such tough jobs.

What they didn’t dwell on was the fact that native-born Canadians are quite willing to work in other tough manual jobs — such as the oil rigs — that pay more.

Christopher Smillie of the Canadian Building Trades Unions put the problem succinctly. “If employers can’t entice Canadians to take certain jobs (they should) raise wages,” he told the committee.

After all, that is supposed to be how the free market operates. But the Conservatives -- who proclaimed their faith in free markets -- never really believed in them. What the Liberals believe is not entirely clear. And it's not entirely clear what they will do:

At one level, their problem is a practical one. Even if they are opposed to using temporary migration as a wage suppressant, they live in a world where this is the norm. That’s why, in an attempt to pander to East Coast fish plants, they lifted the ceiling this year on the number of temporary foreign workers seasonal employers may bring in.

Stay tuned. 



Anonymous said...

What the Liberals believe is not clear?! The TFW program is a Liberal program!

The Pearson government introduced the TFW program as a way of bringing in high-skill specialist workers like foreign physicians, engineers and so on. The low-skill worker category, which currently accounts for the majority of TFWs, was introduced by the Chretien government. Sure the Harper government greatly expanded the number of workers admitted, but the program itself is a Liberal brainchild.

I expect minor tweaks will be heralded as "great changes," but it's clear enough that the Trudeau government has no intention of getting rid of this wage depressor and subsidy to business.

Lorne said...

I think we likely know how this one is going to turn out, Owen. Increasingly, other than in tone, our 'new' government is acting more and more like the old one. But I guess a smile is better than a scowl for many people.

Owen Gray said...

I suspect that's what will happen, Anon. The difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives is -- or was -- a matter of degree. The Conservatives greatly expanded the program. I suspect that the Liberals will cut it back.

Owen Gray said...

As I wrote in my response to Anon, Lorne, the differences are a matter of degree, not substance.

The Mound of Sound said...

How can we expect change when the new government applies the same default operating system as its predecessors, neoliberalism? Trudeau, like Harper before him, is content to let the country wallow in the fetid rut of neoliberalism. He's simply not inclined to make the sort of changes that would reverse our growing inequality, wage stagnation or democratic atrophy. That would take two qualities he does not seem to have - vision and courage.

Owen Gray said...

It takes a great deal of courage to take on the people Franklin Roosevelt called "economic royalists," Mound.

Lulymay said...

Yes, the TFW program was brought in by the Liberals. However, we have come to know and understand how it operated in by talking to folks in agriculture who were having problems getting a large number of workers for a short harvest period of time. The TFW program was instituted to help farmers with this problem. And it worked! the idea was people came from outside the country to work this specific area of food production and returned to their home country. They did not come as economic migrants with an intent to latch onto our social programs.

The ReformaCons, out of spite I'm sure, completely bastardized the intent of this well intentioned program. There was never a problem hiring staff for the fast food industry. What has happened now is that these part time jobs - totally suitable for students and many women who didn't have the education to get into better paying jobs and used this work to subsidize their family's income. The added bonus was that as a customer I could understand exactly what they were saying when I placed my order as they understood me as well. This is not the case these days. And our own students are having a hard time finding part time work now because they have been supplanted by TFWs who are being held hostage by their employer through various financial penalties in order to even get these low paying jobs.

I would hope this new Liberal government would take an honest stand and revert back to what the TFW program was originally intended to do, but I won't hold my breath because, unfortunately, most of our elected officials are controlled by the back room business community who has no interest in the welfare of ordinary Canadians.

Anonymous said...

Owen, I'm not so sure the Libs will cut back the program. Yes, the Harper government greatly expanded the program especially from 2006 to 2008 - to the point where people admitted temporarily outnumbered those admitted permanently. But in 2013, Harper and Kenney were forced to cut back in the wake of outrage from their own base over the Royal Bank forcing Canadian IT workers to train their TFW replacements from India.

Ideologically, the TFW program is more of a problem for the Cons. Harper's genius was in cobbling together a coalition of business conservatives to bankroll the party and social conservatives to get out the vote and run it. But immigration in general and the TFW program in particular was a huge problem. Business leaders love the TFW program because workers can be paid next to nothing, expelled to their homelands if they complain, and poor language skills ensure they won't be reading health and safety and WHMIS notices anyway. OTOH, socons and their nativist brethren hate immigrants coming in even on a temporary basis, and most especially they hate non-Christian ones. That's why Kenney ensured that the Philippines was the biggest source nation for temporary workers - they may be brown but at least they're Catholic.

The Libs have no such ideological wedge threatening party unity, and are free to appeal to their business backers' basest instincts. I see them expanding the program, perhaps being careful to keep numbers slightly below their peak under Harper. That'll allow them to brush off Con criticism.

Owen Gray said...

Either way, they keep a cap on wages, Anon -- which is what the program is all about.

Owen Gray said...

It's really hard to predict what will happen, Lulymay. If the program is used to ease labour shortages, it has some validity. If it's used to suppress wages, it should be terminated.

zoombats on Gorgian Bay said...

The recent announcement by the Liberal Government regarding the need to increase immigration from China to obtain "highly skilled labour" has left me speechless. I live in Hong Kong through the winter where I work in the yacht repair trade (as skilled labour) because they haven't got the skills. From where I sit, the majority of highly skilled labour are all the ex-pats brought in to develop and teach those skills. That's in Hong Kong where, they are truly more skilled in banking, finance and such but the real question is just how skilled is the labour force in mainland China. The chinese are very skilled in "copying" and "borrowing" skills and know how. I think this Government will get a windfall of immigration that will only bring skills of money laundering and will be looking for our labour force to be their gardeners and domestics.

Owen Gray said...

Your perspective is illuminating, zoombats. The elites are highly skilled when it comes to protecting their territory.