Recently, the CEO of McDonald’s Canada addressed anxious franchisees about the CBC’s investigation into the company for the chain’s possible abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. During the call, Betts said, “Jason Kenney really knows his stuff. And I’ll say he knows his stuff from a businessperson’s perspective”.
The Conservative Government has claimed to understand the private sector better than other federal parties did. However, the Conservatives have shown themselves to be remarkably naïve when it comes to understanding the factors that motivate corporate businesses.
Kenney spoke on CBC Radio’s The House, shortly after suspending restaurants from using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. He said, “If it’s true that we have a very tight labour market, we should be seeing more inflation in terms of wages, employers should be responding to tightness in the labour market”.
On the face of it, this would sound logical. A tight labour market would lead to wage inflation and ensure that companies make themselves more attractive to workers. Yet, his words say nothing about governments intervening with a program that enables companies to circumvent the labour market dynamics.
Nor do they raise questions about a government that tweaks a program repeatedly to expedite the process of recruiting temporary workers from outside the country and allows certain employers to set abysmally low wages for these foreign workers.
On all counts, Kenney and the Conservative Government could have foreseen the scenario where no businessperson would pass over the opportunity of capitalising on an environment that boosts productivity and minimizes costs. This is especially so since Kenney “understands a businessperson’s perspective” and the Conservatives understand the private sector.
Kenney’s comments to CBC Radio began with “If it’s true…” They clearly betrayed the fact that he – or his colleagues in the government – have no clue about the job market currently – even if they have been vociferous while talking about acute labour shortages.
Despite the Canadian economy being on the rise, domestic workers are not willing to relocate to where the jobs are. Canada’s Employment Insurance system gives no incentives for workers to relocate either – even in areas suffering from chronic unemployment.
A recent CD Howe report criticised the current version of the TFW program, declaring that the government’s policies actually accelerated the rise in unemployment rates in Alberta and British Columbia. It mentioned that Canada would need to develop better data about the state of the local labour markets, before permitting temporary foreign workers to enter Canada.
How the Temporary Foreign Worker Program Moved from Being a Nimble Program to One that Requires a Complete Revamp
According to popular perception, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, currently under intense Parliamentary scrutiny following a series of program abuse allegations by the Royal Bank of Canada, three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria, British Columbia and a pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, was a program that had merit on paper initially, before it spiralled out of control.
Currently, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has become a major issue affecting not only unemployed Canadians but also those individuals coming to Canada from abroad, for short-term jobs.
Canada launched the program in 1973, aiming to bringing in highly specialised workers like academics and engineers for meeting skills gaps in the country. In 2002, the Liberals under Jean Chretian, included low-skilled workers under the ambit of the program.
Successive Liberal and Conservative governments continued to tweak the program further so that it expedited the process of bringing in foreign workers into several sectors of the industry, including food and construction, once pilot projects commenced in Alberta and British Columbia. This resulted in the accelerated entry of temporary foreign workers into Canada – moving from 101,000 in 2002 to 338,000 in 2012, with low-skill workers forming the fastest growing denomination of workers.
Under the current program, Canadians lose out on jobs as do several foreign workers. Locals also miss out on employment opportunities and employers keep wages at artificially low levels. In addition, the government also does not have the bandwidth to keep monitoring a program of this size for any possible program abuses.
Researches also back the impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. A CD Howe Institute reported that a pilot project that accelerated the approval process for companies to hire low-skill temporary foreign workers, raised unemployment levels.
The Alberta Federation of Labour revealed recently that some companies were paying temporary foreign workers up to $5 less than the prevailing local market wage for the job, with the tacit approval of the federal government. This also means that the program can reduce wages for foreign workers as well.
According to Jason Foster, the coordinator for Athabasca University’s industrial relations program, “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program moved from being a small, nimble program to a large-scale one that the Government could not manage successfully.” While Employment Minister Jason Kenney promised to implement new reforms for the program, experts believe that only a complete revamp of the program could help salvage the situation.
Source: CBC News
Recent cases in the news have renewed debate over the use and necessity of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
McDonald’s franchises in Alberta and British Columbia have been at the centre of this most recent controversy, after stories emerged of Canadian workers being passed over for their foreign counterparts. Employers are allegedly engaging in such practices because temporary foreign workers often will perform more menial tasks for less money.
Such stories have not been received well by a Canadian public that has been struggling to recover from the recent economic recession. They are also indicative of the need to better address Canada’s labour concerns, according to a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail.
It is much more beneficial, the editors argue, to use Canada’s immigration system to bring skilled workers into the country on a permanent basis. Skilled workers have experience, education, and the motivation to succeed in this country. Temporary workers might be just as motivated, but are often used to fill low-paying, low-skilled positions that Canadians would not want.
It becomes a concern – not only for temporary foreign workers, but for all Canadians – when employers would rather import low-skilled workers willing to settle for less pay and worse conditions rather than improve wages and conditions for all workers.
The Temporary Foreign Worker program is currently suspended until Labour Minister Jason Kenney unveils reforms in the coming weeks. The program has been subject to many reforms in recent years, but some critics argue that the program should be scrapped altogether.
Source: Globe and Mail