Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ottawa has both feet mired in this dilemma: exploiting immigrant workers and undermining Canadian workers

Exploiting immigrant workers, by permitting employers (specifically 4000 of them) to hire at below minimum wage demonstrates where the government's head is at.
It is in the corporate board rooms, being lobbied by those corporations who seek to hire as many as possible at the lowest wages possible, in order to generate more and more corporate profit, motivated by their legendary corporate greed. And the government has their back, as they saying goes.
Only trouble is, this kind of overhaul of Canada's immigration system generates worker resentment, when  the Temporary Worker Permits expire (where do they go once they have no longer permission to work in Canada?) and removes those jobs from Canadian workers who must be paid a minimum wage under the law.
This dynamic has existed for many years in the argruculture sector in the U.S. especially at harvest time when immigrant workers would harvest vegetable crops for 'slave' wages, given the refusal of American workers to do those jobs at those wages. There are now some 11 million immigrants living in the United States, many of them undocumented, and living in the shadows, not knowing if or when they might be deported. And the Congress is wrestling with Immigration Reform, an issue hingeing on whether those 11 million will have a path to citizenship when the bill is passed.
Canada's neo-con government has fallen into the corporate-greed-profit trap in supporting Canadian employers who wish to cut costs (one of the holy grail mantras of the current business-government enmeshment) and now, as the information becomes public, there is a rising tide of anger, resentment and bitterness in both the immigrant communities and among Canadian workers who cannot find work....and the situation is also racially coloured...enhancing racism from Canadian workers against immigrants whose innocence of the situation has propelled them into a situation of short-term work, and long-term hostility.
And the agency making all thiss possible is none other than the Harper government, so umbillically tied to their corporate masters that the Canadian public "be damned", so long as their political masters are happy.

Ottawa exploiting immigrants to undermine Canadian workforce: Siddiqui

Canada is on the same disastrous course as the U.S., which has millions of illegal immigrants who are exploited and resented at the same time By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, April 11, 2013 Jason Kenney (Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)  is a clever politician juggling contradictory goals.

He floods the country with 250,000 immigrants a year, even though most cannot find jobs commensurate with the education and skills they were selected for. Tens of thousands of Canadian-educated graduates cannot find jobs either. His is an exploitative model that suits only the corporate sector — driving wages and worker demands down, profits up.
This arrangement is augmented with his even more blatantly exploitative temporary workers program. Employers get foreigners at a legislated lower wage than Canadians. The scandalous RBC case is one twist in a complicated labour scam.
Kenney does not know how many temporary workers leave at the end of their visas and how many disappear into the underground economy, thereby exposing themselves to further exploitation and also lowering wages for others. Canada is on the same disastrous course as the U.S., which has millions of illegal immigrants, who are exploited and resented at the same time.
He has upended our traditional immigration system, wherein newcomers were seen as future citizens (not just fodder for corporate greed or a force to undermine the ostensibly spoiled homegrown workforce).
Immigrants were entitled to family reunification and citizenship, the latter after three years if they stayed on the right side of the law. Now they struggle for ages to get their families united and become citizens. This is a matter of policy or bureaucratic incompetence. Either way, it is not good for them and not good for Canada.
Kenney courts selected ethnic communities, turning up for their festivals and dinners, and gaining just enough votes to win targeted ridings for the Tories.
At the other end of the electoral spectrum, he manages anti-immigrant backlash, especially in his conservative constituency, by harping about how he’s “fixing the broken immigration system”; keeping out bogus refugees, such as the Roma; and standing on guard against “barbaric cultural practices” being imported into the country.
This last bogus claim is repeated in a new federal guide for immigrants.
Designed to help newcomers navigate their way here, the 146-page guide also serves as a tool of Kenney’s political and cultural warfare.
It promotes the values his government has systematically rebranded Canada with — the monarchy, the Armed Forces, the War of 1812, the two world wars, the military mission in Afghanistan, etc. It ignores or downplays that which he thinks carries a liberal and Liberal imprimatur, such as our historic peacekeeping and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The guide warns immigrants not to import such horrors as female genital mutilation, polygamy, honour killings, forced marriage, spousal abuse, etc.
Such references stigmatize certain cultures, says the NDP’s Jinny Sims, opposition immigration critic. She’s being politically correct. We should not hesitate to denounce awful practices.
The really offensive part is the guide’s working hypothesis and message: that immigrants are prone to such behaviour; that they are flooding Canada with such practices; and that Kenney and Co. is civilizing the barbarians arriving at our gates.
But there’s no proof that such practices are proliferating here.

•Genital mutilation: In the 1990s, there were whispers of this practice in the Ethiopian and Somali communities. The government of the day amended the Criminal Code to make that a crime, to remove any doubt.

•Honour killings: There have been a dozen in the last decade, according to one study. While one is too many, the context is that there were 598 homicides in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, and in most cases the victim knew the killer.

•Polygamy: We know of no convictions among immigrants. However, we do know of the practice being prevalent for decades among the followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in British Columbia.

•Forced marriages: One hears of these occasionally, but usually with a he said/she said complication.

•Spousal abuse: We do hear of this. But there’s no study showing it is more prevalent among immigrants. The studies consistently show that the practice cuts across income, ethnicity, religion, geography, etc.

Kenney justifies hectoring new immigrants on these subjects in the name of familiarizing them with the laws of their new land.
That doesn’t wash. Immigrants, like anyone else, must obey all the laws of Canada, not just those he chooses to highlight.
It would have been more useful to include a reminder of the laws that the newcomers are more likely to run afoul of, such as making rolling stops at stop signs and running red lights — routine infractions in China, India, the Philippines and other places where we are drawing most of our immigrants from.
He is posing as our spear-carrier against practices that fuel anti-immigrant discourse, especially in his right-wing constituency.
Or he is using inflammatory rhetoric to deflect public attention from ruthlessly exploiting immigrant and non-immigrant workers — and that during a prolonged period of high unemployment.

And this:
Rise in foreign temp workers questioned by labour groups

Labour economist says program allows firms to keep wages low

By Amanda Pfeffer, CBC News, April 10, 2013 The Alberta Federation of Labour called for an inquiry Tuesday after it obtained a government list of more than 4,000 companies given approval to hire temporary foreign workers last year, many in the service industry.

"You look down this list and what you see is McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and Subway. This list goes on. It stretches the bounds of credibility that all of these employers have been using temporary foreign workers to hire skilled workers," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
McGowan's comments come after a CBC story this week of one man's experience training foreign workers to take his job drew a fire storm of controversy and a hard look at Canada's temporary foreign workers program.
David Moreau told the CBC he and 42 other IT workers at RBC are being replaced by a foreign workforce.
"The new people are in our offices and we are training them to do our jobs," he said. "That adds insult to injury."
The head of RBC denied the bank is replacing Canadian workers with temporary foreign workers. Foreign workers were hired by iGate, an outsourcing firm, which has a contract with the bank to provide IT services.
Kelly Leitch, parliamentary secretary for the minister of human resources and skills development, said the government is looking into it.
"We have some significant concerns about what's going on in the temporary foreign workers program and that's why in (the budget) we’ve committed to fix the challenges that exist so Canadians can be better connected to jobs."
Labour economist Erin Weir says that kind of review is essential: "This should lead to a broader debate about the temporary foreign worker program. Is it really addressing labour shortages? Or is it undermining job opportunities and wages in Canada?"
Program has ballooned
The program began in 1973 to fill a gap in the labour market for jobs Canadians could not or would not fill — domestic workers and agricultural workers as well as highly skilled jobs, such as specialist physicians and professors.
"The idea of having a temporary foreign worker program is legitimate," according to Prof. Ian Lee at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business. "The Germans, other European countries and the U.S. all have this kind of program. The issue is to have the right checks and balances to ensure it isn't abused."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says a government list showing thousands of jobs going to Temporary Foreign Workers stretches the credibility of the program. (CBC)But critics suggest those checks and balances have been undermined by recent changes to the program. The high-skill segment made up more than 50 per cent of temporary foreign workers, but all that changed in 2002. That's when the federal government under the Liberals began a pilot project adding a new category of "low skilled workers."
According to a recent report by the faculty of business at Athabasca University in Edmonton, the "low skilled category now dominates the temporary foreign workforce, with the top categories now including food counter attendants, kitchen helpers, cooks; construction trades, helpers and labourers, light-duty cleaners and administration workers including information technology."
In 2006, the new Conservative government expanded the pilot project, and added "fast-tracking" for some jobs in Alberta and British Columbia. The new list of jobs called "regional occupations under pressure," reduced the obligation by employers to seek out Canadian workers first.
The government document obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests employers such as fast food operators like McDonald's and Tim Hortons are using this accelerated program to bring in cheap labour.
The program is aimed at higher-skilled workers, but they don't have to prove they've advertised for Canadians to fill the jobs first, said Gil McGowan.
"They don't have to run over the same checks and balances and that's why we're concerned, because clearly this process is being abused by service sector employers. And it's important to note that the government wants to expand the accelerated program, which we think would be a disaster."
Cities taking more temporary foreign workers
While most think the program is meant to fill jobs in remote parts of resource-rich Western Canada, some of the largest increase in temporary foreign workers have been in cities.
Since 2008, permits for temporary foreign workers in Toronto increased by 60 per cent, in Montreal by 87 per cent and the Atlantic Provinces saw an 80 per cent increase, according to data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
The total number of temporary foreign workers has doubled in the last decade, to 338,189 workers.
"We now have about as many temporary workers in Canada as the entire workforce of New Brunswick," said Weir, an economist with the United Steel Workers Union.
"I think part of the problem is that a lot of companies are going through the motions of pretending to hire Canadians, in order to gain those Labour Market Opinions that they need to get temporary foreign workers."
Weir suggests the foreign worker program often allows employers to fill vacancies without providing training opportunities or raising wages to attract workers.
He points to recent studies showing Canadian companies underperform compared to businesses in other OECD countries, including the U.S., when it comes to training and development of its own workforce.
All Canadians could pay for the expansion of this category of worker, according to Weir: "Expanding labour supply, without an offsetting expansion of demand, increases unemployment and decreases wages."
Allowing cheaper wages
Another change to the program last year allows employers to pay workers 15 per cent less than Canadian workers. Carleton's Ian Lee says allowing lower wages could undermine Canadians' support for the program.
"The problem is it creates the perception that it's being used to undermine organized labour or undermine the market wage rate in that job classification. It’s going to discourage public support when Canadians realize an employer can do that."
"Canadian workers are being displaced, training is being ignored and the TFW program is becoming the first choice rather than a tool of last resort," said the Alberta Federation of Labour’s McGowan.
Kelly Leitch defends the program.
"When we don't have a Canadian available because there actually isn't anyone available, it's important that we have access to a good program, a sound temporary foreign worker program; that skilled labour can be brought into the country to make sure that firms can thrive."
She said the government is committed to reviewing the program, but had no details on when that review would be complete.
Perhaps the courts will get there first.
On Tuesday, HD Mining International was in a Vancouver courtroom, defending its decision to hire 201 workers from China for its coal mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
Two B.C. unions launched the case against the company.
Brian Cochrane, of the International Union of Operating Engineers, hopes the case will result in changes.
"I think that this case is going to give us a chance to look under the hood of the whole temporary foreign worker program."

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