Last week, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley proclaimed that the Government of Canada would be streamlining the temporary foreign worker program. Buried among sensible economic alterations including a conversion to an online system, acceleration of labour market opinions, and call center support, is a gem that promises to save employers a lot of money. Employers will be able to hire temporary foreign workers at a rate up to 15% below the region’s standard, so long as they’re “still consistent with Canadian workers.” (1) Meaning if a carpenter is normally paid $30/hour in Calgary, AB, a temporary foreign worker can be paid as low as $25.50, provided there are carpenters, somewhere in Canada, being paid $25.50 or less.(2)
The infuriating thing about the quest for economic profits at any cost, is the need for good paying jobs for Canadians. According to StatsCan, there is a 7.2% unemployment rate(3). When combined with the CIA World Factbook’s count of 18.68 million people in Canada’s workforce(4), that equals roughly 1.34 million unemployed, but capable, workers. That’s slightly more than the entire population of the Ottawa metropolitan area. Instead of investing in developing a Canadian population and encouraging inter-provincial mobility within the country, the Conservative government has decided to develop a two-tiered wage system with temporary foreign workers being paid less to do the same work.(5)
Instead of encouraging education in skilled trades, through affordable education, career fairs, and student-to-employer direct connections, the government has decided to encourage the temporary import of people, to be paid less. This action effectively makes the temporary foreign worker a desirable commodity, to be bought and sold on the open market between companies unwilling to pay their workers the regional standard. This break will encourage employers to use the temporary foreign worker program, and to find ways around hiring Canadians to complete the labour. As more foreign workers are employed, at the expense of skilled Canadians who are no longer deemed affordable, less people would enroll for training in the trades. This leads to still fewer skilled workers, and yet more foreign workers being employed at low wages.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing in foreign workers. This is Canada, and if it weren’t for our constant importation of people from around the world, every year we’d have a smaller population. What’s wrong is providing a discount to employers for hiring a foreign worker instead of a Canadian, and robbing those workers of the pay they’ve earned. Far from the Government’s line of creating jobs for Canadians, this move effectively outsources them. Instead of granting a discount, the government should require businesses that utilize foreign workers to pay a surtax for the privilege of importing workers from abroad. The funds from this surtax could go directly into education of Canadians in these in-demand trades and positions. How does the old proverb go? “Buy a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
It’s important that temporary foreign workers can be obtained, when there are no local workers available. After all, training takes time. But the market needs to be such that it makes more sense to train for the long-term, than import for the short-term at the expense of long-term growth & sustainability. Being able to better fund additional training in these demand areas is an issue that can be addressed in a single fell swoop: pay foreign workers the same as Canadian, implement a surtax on businesses for using foreign workers, and invest that surtax into educating Canadians in that trade. It’s a simple move, makes more long-term fiscal sense, and reduces that embarrassing 7.2% unemployment rate.
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