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.