Jim Sinclair is president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
News that a company backed by Chinese state-owned steelmakers plans to bring more than 200 Chinese miners to work temporarily in its coal mines in northern B.C. has put a much-needed spotlight on Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as has news that recruiters in China are charging $12,500 a head for access to these mining jobs in Canada.
That these are the first jobs directly associated with Christy Clark’s jobs plan ups the politics and has embarrassed the premier and her government. However, the issue is much bigger than the current electoral cycle.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was, in theory, designed to ensure that short-term skills shortages would not stifle economic growth by holding up major projects. But the theory doesn’t match the reality. Whether in coal mining, fast food or construction, the TFW program has proven to be less about solving a labour shortage and much more about keeping wages low.
The program claims to require employers to search for local workers at the going pay rate, and come up empty before looking outside Canada. For some jobs the government no longer even requires this search, and for others the federal government has stated it’s OK to pay foreign workers 15-percent less than their Canadian counterparts. When a shortage has been demonstrated, employers can import a “short-term” foreign worker. That worker, unlike you or me, is tied to that single employer and can’t quit and find another job. Complain about wages or safety conditions, or suffer an illness or injury, and off you go, back to your country of origin.
Initially, the program was truly short-term, allowing for six-month postings. But employers have successfully pressured for changes that let workers stay as long as four years before being forced to return home. The jobs they fill aren’t “temporary” by any stretch of the imagination.
In our view, if workers are needed for jobs lasting four years or longer, they should be allowed to come to Canada through the immigration system and to have the same rights as all Canadians.
Our country has long relied on immigration and every demographic indication suggests we must continue to do so. So why have our governments abandoned the traditional immigration programs in favour of the TFW program? It’s simple, to give employers a cheap, indentured labour force.
For the rest of this article, please go to [Vancouver] The Province website: http://www.theprovince.com/Guest+column+jobs+plan+abandons+local+benefits+exploits+workers/7462450/story.html