Temporary foreign workers program leading to “apartheid”, says professor

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      The federal government’s temporary foreign workers program is creating an “apartheid system” of labour, according to a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University.

      In a telephone interview, Gerardo Otero argued that the country now has two distinct pools of workers. The first is comprised of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, who enjoy benefits and workers’ rights. The second is made up of migrants who are brought into the country on short-term contracts, restricted to a single employer, and only protected on paper by provincial employment standards.

      “Since 2006, there is a trend—and it is no coincidence that it is the Harper administration that is doing this—where there are more guest workers accepted to Canada than immigrants,” Otero said. “What this indicates, is rather than a country of immigrants, Canada is becoming a country that systematically generates this noncitizenship class of workers, who are separated from their families and who don’t have the same rights as the rest of the Canadian workforce.”

      Otero drew attention to an April 2012 rules change by Canada’s human resources minister, Diane Finley, which permits employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15 percent less than average wages.

      It’s estimated that there are 70,000 temporary foreign workers in British Columbia and over 300,000 across the country. Nationally, that’s up from 101,000 in 2002.

      The status of migrant workers made national headlines last week when Canada Border Service Agency officers took a reality television show’s camera crew along on raids at construction sites in Vancouver.

      Mable Elmore, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington—where one of those raids occurred—suggested that the federal government’s preference for temporary foreign workers is “leading to a two-tiered society”.

      “We have citizens with rights,” she said, “and other people—temporary foreign workers—who have fewer rights and who often have a lot of difficulties and limited access to services.”

      In separate interviews, Otero and Elmore suggested that the solution is to create pathways for temporary foreign workers to become citizens or permanent residents.

      “That would eliminate a lot of the discrimination and exploitation and difficulties that these individuals experience,” Elmore said.

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      Janice Williamson

      Mar 20, 2013 at 6:43pm

      It is my understanding that the Foreign Worker Program began as a way to import highly paid experts for temporary contracts. Over time this evolved into the exploitative situation today. I know that in Alberta, Temporary Foreign Workers regulations have become increasingly draconian. Whereas earlier, a woman working as a foreign worker in Edmonton could transfer to another programme like the Nanny programme and eventually bring her family to Canada (the women I know have been apart from their children for 6-8 years. Now this is impossible. The Temporary Foreign Workers must leave Canada after the contract and must remain outside of Canada for at least five years before they return. Many of these workers are visible minorities. The "apartheid" metaphor is chilling in its appropriateness. These disenfranchised worker programs are racialized as well. Our jails are filled with too many aboriginal people, Here in Edmonton, they just opened a new remand centre that is the picture of dehumanized space - some prisoners are there for more than a year and it is structured for minimum contact and maximum surveillance - & prisoners now wear orange jumpsuits - shades of Guantanamo North! After September 11, Islamophobia helped determine our policies and practices. Xenophobia and racism shape our society and Canadians don't connect the dots. We're not "nice". We're silent and oblivious to injustices that proliferate.


      Mar 20, 2013 at 10:48pm

      As a former South African, I agree that this is chillingly similar to the Apartheid system.

      Jody Simm

      Mar 20, 2013 at 11:06pm

      Another way to look at it is in a labour market context. The temporary foreign worker program is a convenient way to increase the supply of labour, therefore driving down the price of labour(wages and benefits). An employer can get away with offering terrible wages if they can fill the positions with the virtually limitless supply of foreign workers. And they are allowed to hire TFWs (temporary foreign workers) if they don't have Canadian applicants for the job being offered. If they offer low enough wages, no Canadians will apply, and they will be qualified to hire TFWs.

      My personal opinion as a non-educated, working class person is the the TFW program is a slap in the face to all Canadian workers. I also disagree that fast tracking TFWs for immigration is a solution as well, because it creates the same problem; a glut of workers on the labour market that drives wages down.

      My personal solution is that the TFW program should be completely scrapped, and immigration should be held at a level that keeps us at a steady population; not shrinking and not growing. This will give time for the housing market to be able to provide adequate housing for all Canadians (which will encourage larger families) and the economy will be forced to provide better, higher paying jobs for all Canadians (which will restore the middle class and also encourage larger families).

      When we create these positive conditions that encourage larger families and a natural growth through a higher birth rate, we will be able to drastically scale back our immigration program as well.

      I know a lot of workers who hold these views, and I think it's interesting that these views go against the conservative ideal of using TFWs to save corporations money on labour. It also goes against liberal "flat earth" views that we can sustain never ending and ever increasing immigration with limit ever even mentioned. It's an awful situation that all of the political parties are so ignorant and/or indifferent to the views of ordinary working Canadians.


      Mar 21, 2013 at 8:58am

      It's also taking over our industries in BC. I beg of you to find a Canadian worker in any of the ski hills, or in any of the resorts in Banff. They've completely taken over the fruit picking industry and the ski hills thereby taking over both big job-creators in the Okanagan. It's not only creating an apartheid on their side, it's creating poverty and a loss of wages on ours.


      Mar 21, 2013 at 11:42am

      The kinds of stipulations the Canadian state imposes on those recruited as "temporary foreign workers" would be unconstitutional were those same stipulations to be applied to "citizens" or "permanent residents." That certainly is "apartheid."The government purposely manipulates the status that they give people (giving more people a "migrant worker" status versus a "permanent resident" one) to make them cheaper for employers to hire and to make these workers less able to collectively organize and bargain for their rights. The only way we can ensure that the government and employers cannot use one group of people to undercut the wages and working conditions of another group is to join with them and organize for better wages and conditions. History has shown us that exclusion (more immigration restrictions) do not work. All they do is to create a political climate in which we fail to act in solidarity with those who have less rights than we do. That is a losing game - for all of us.


      Apr 8, 2013 at 8:30pm

      This is ridiculous, This professor is plain wrong. When you paint brush an opinion over an entire country or market. How could you be right. How could you get printed? Oh controversy.. nice work straight.com


      Jul 31, 2013 at 2:59am

      This is economic treason acted out by the government tasked with protecting it's citizens.

      Temporary foreign worker programs are growing at an alarming rate and abatement seems like a pipe dream.

      Effectively gutting competitive labor markets is the main goal with this program. It seems that only in a plutocracy could this type of neoliberalistic economic ideology take place.

      We need to emulate the German model rather than the American one. A strong manufacturing base coupled with targeted post secondary education for transitioning youth into domestic jobs in manufacturing and high tech industries.

      Right now we have a system that usurps the citizen's right to fair pay and humane, empowering work conditions.

      The only people advocating this type of program are business owners. The vast majority of working class/middle class Canadians are steadfast in their disagreement of the program.

      This will not help the business owners who only have a mentality of profiting in the short term.

      This will dilute our economy of valuable purchasing power derived from livable wages. Wal-mart model vs Costco model, who's winning that battle now?

      We need to rethink the new paradigm of neoliberalism and letting the "market" ie companies decide how to create social mobility and a strong national economy.

      This model isn't working save for a tiny percentage of the population, mainly the large scale capital holders.

      We often preach the value of fiscal discipline and free market ideologies, and yet those rules only apply to small capital holders ie the middle and lower classes. Large companies and rich individuals get a completely different set of rules to live by, essentially economic protectionist policies in the form of exemption from taxation due to capital flight to off shore havens and subsidies for job creation through tax breaks.

      We need to wake up and all citizens should be taking active roles in policy decisions mandated by provincial and federal government.

      We need real political representation as opposed to what we have now, plutocratic crony capitalism.


      May 2, 2014 at 4:18pm

      All this talk about finding workers for fast food restaurants is a red herring.
      Stephen Harper works for Big Oil and don't you forget that.