Whatever it says on the menu, fast food restaurant owners, other employers of temporary foreign workers and their pals in the Harper Government are serving baloney. Below: Dominique M. Gross of Simon Fraser University; Charles Decatur “C.D.” Howe.

Advocates of the Harper Government’s so-called Temporary Foreign Workers Program are using an occasionally legitimate need to justify making a completely illegitimate policy the “new normal” for employment in Canada.

That is to say, from time to time there are short-term regional labour shortages in Canada, as there are occasionally foreign experts in specialized trades and professions ranging from making pastries with Finnish snowberries to teaching obscure Asian martial arts to thoracic surgery who should be fast-tracked to employment to fill a particular need that can’t be immediately answered locally.

So having a mechanism for dealing quickly with such temporary shortages, which are almost inevitably of skilled or specialist workers, makes sense.

But that doesn’t mean the fast-food restaurants and other businesses that have become addicted to the Harper TFW Program as a way to exploit vulnerable unskilled foreign workers and keep wages low in their industry and region are telling you the truth.

In particular, the mouthpiece organizations that justify their activities offer nothing but spin and deception when they imply the TFW Program is the only way such workers can be brought to Canada – a claim we hear and read almost daily now in the mass media.

The trouble is, they’ve repeated this lie so often that a lot of us are starting to take for granted that it’s the truth. But the fact is it has always been possible for Canadian employers to legitimately hire foreign workers to fill such specialized, short-term needs.

The difference is that those workers came to Canada with a normal work permit, and became part of the normal labour market, subject to local labour laws and lately with the same Constitutionally guaranteed labour and mobility rights as Canadian workers.

Some of them, of course, chose to stay because Canada is a great place to live – or, at least, it used to be before Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so-called Employment Minister Jason Kenney and the rest of the wrecking crew from their Reform-Conservative Party of Canada got to work busting the place up.

Nor are TFW users and their PR pleaders being honest when they claim there is a shortage of unskilled, low-wage workers, even in regions like Alberta where a case can be made there is a legitimate shortage of skilled workers.

As Dominique M. Gross, professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University, wrote in an April 2014 report for the quite conservative C.D. Howe Institute, between 2002 and 2013 “there was little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations.” Mind you, she noted, it doesn’t help that the government of Canada doesn’t keep very good records of such things.

The same business owners, their spin doctors and political allies who demand unrestricted access to temporary workers are also being economical with the truth when they exaggerate the cost of bringing unskilled foreign workers into Canada.

This fairy tale is used to make the case that if only there were willing Canadians available, fast food employers and their ilk would surely hire them. It is neatly demolished by Dr. Gross’s study.

In making the case any temporary foreign worker program “is unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to labour shortages,” she pointed out that the relative cost of hiring TFWs in Canada is “remarkably low” compared with other countries.

Although the job-application fee charged by the federal government “might cover administrative costs, it is hardly large enough to provide a strong incentive for employers to search for domestic workers to fill job vacancies,” Dr. Gross wrote. “It is far lower, for example, than the cost of relocating a domestic worker from another province.” (Emphasis added.)

And remember, as its name suggests, the C.D. Howe Institute is not exactly a nest of raving Marxists urging us to seize control of the means of production and hoist the red flag over Parliament Hill.

By the way, the C.D. Howe Institute is selling this report on-line for $12, so in deference to their business model and in the hope Dr. Gross is getting paid for her efforts I’m not going to link to a PDF as I normally would.

Finally, we all know that even in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, where shortages of skilled workers supposedly exist, there are plenty of unskilled workers available to work for relatively low wages.

We know this because, in many cases, they are our own children – something that may not have been instinctively flagged as a problem by someone like Mr. Kenney, who has not raised a family of his own.

However, as Canadians, our kids have been brought up to speak up for their own rights and those of their friends and co-workers, and to demand a fair return for their work. We know this too because, in most cases, they have been raised this way by us, their parents.

The fast-food industry, where many Canadian young people used to get their start in the working world, is notorious for its disdain for such attitudes, and its contempt for a fair working relationship with employees, not to mention parents who might take action if their children are exploited. How much better from these businesses’ perspective to use powerless foreign workers.

Increasingly, it’s obvious that like the Harper Government, these employers are self-hating Canadians, who despise and seek to destroy the very qualities that have made Canada a great country in which to live and work. So whatever government, industry and Chamber of Commerce apologists’ claimed goals for the TFW Program may be, its practical effect is to lower wages and eliminate jobs for Canadians.

Each time the Harper Government eased the restrictions on employers to hire TFWs, Dr. Gross observed, it “actually accelerated the rise in unemployment rates in Alberta and British Columbia.”

“The reversal of some of these changes in 2013 is welcome but probably not sufficient, largely because adequate information is still lacking about the actual state of the labour market, and because the current uniform application fee employers pay to hire TFWs does not increase their incentive to search for domestic workers to fill job vacancies,” she concluded.

So we can see pretty clearly that the Harper Government and its supporters among the beneficiaries of what ought be known as the Temporary Indentured Labourers Program have not been truthful about the need for the program, the cost to employers or the impact on Canadian of TFWs.

Given this, how confident can you be they’re telling the truth about the reasons they cooked it up in the first place?

That Italian Mortaldella sandwich with crisp garden vegetables on freshly baked artisanal blanched focaccia they want you to buy for such a temptingly low price is really just baloney and stale bread.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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1 Comment

  1. There must be a ‘Temporary Foreign Worker’s Blues’ song out there somewhere just waiting to written. Something along the lines of Cape Breton’s ‘Buddy and the Boys’ classic ‘Workin’ at the Woolco Manager Trainee Blues’.

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