Wage burners

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If Canadians aren’t willing to scratch out a living on minimum wage, find someone who will.

That seems to be the unfortunate fallout of the temporary foreign workers program.

Ottawa halted the hiring of new foreign workers for restaurants last month after allegations surfaced that the program was being abused. Pockets of complaints have sprung up across the country, but most restaurant owners — including many in this province — say they’re being unfairly smeared with the same brush.

Last week, St. John’s city council issued a plea to end the moratorium on restaurant jobs. A local restaurateur said she has a temporary Filipino worker who is paid the same as other employees. That man’s future is now in limbo.

Several members of the local Filipino community attended the council meeting to demonstrate their concerns about having to return home.

Rules state that foreign workers must be paid the median prevailing hourly wage for that occupation in any given geographic area.

But an investigation undertaken by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) paints a different

story. It found that about 97 per cent of the approved minimum-wage positions in that province were below what the rules say they should be paid.

The AFL used access-to-information legislation to obtain figures that show Ottawa approved thousands of requests to bring in temporary foreign workers at minimum wage in recent years.

Their findings, reported Monday in The Globe and Mail, add ammunition to arguments that the government and businesses have been overstating labour shortages.

Indeed, the number of foreign workers has mushroomed in the past few years. In Newfoundland and Labrador alone, the number has risen from 936 to 2,551 between 2005 and 2012. That’s an increase of more than 250 per cent.

There’s little doubt the program does help in some cases. In small communities around this province, there are simply not enough low-wage job seekers available.

But inherent problems cannot be overlooked. The main one is that foreign workers come with a built-in indebtedness — they are beholden to their employers for being allowed in the country, and the temptation to exploit that is a recipe for abuse. Even at the same wage, a foreign worker would be more willing to go above and beyond their expected duties.

The program also creates a kind of false economy, in the same way that video lottery terminals have sustained numerous establishments that would otherwise not exist.

In the latter case, the price is gambling addiction and the social problems it creates. In the case of temporary workers, it’s a matter of exploiting the lower living standards of other countries to boost targeted industries without a clear permanent outcome in mind.

There is a better way to go about filling gaping job markets. It’s called immigration. The difference, of course, is that an immigrant is a Canadian and can demand fair treatment.

A temporary worker has no such status.

Organizations: Alberta Federation of Labour, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Daniel Masse
    May 29, 2014 - 12:45

    Business owners that did migrate to Canada years ago WILL NOT BE HIRING much real Canadians but WILL be HIRING people from their OWN country, asking to speak punjabi, mandarin, etc to eliminate Canadians from the earth planet.for working. We - Canadians - are screwed for finding work !

  • Daniel Masse
    May 29, 2014 - 12:37

    In 2006, Tim Hortons was paying $14.00 per hour in Okotoks, near Calgary. Because TFWs cheap wages, it is $9.95 in Calgary, same as minimum wage... TFWs bringing wages down. Nothing good for the Canadian economy to bring these modern slaves TFWs, most of them have to pay remittance to their country, and send money in their family to bring their whole family,. Canadians are struggling to get full time jobs that have decent wages, not interested to get minimum wages and being treated like like slaves with crappy working hours.

  • Richard Burns
    May 28, 2014 - 09:46

    There's a simple solution to get the lazy generation we've created to work. Cut out all the money we give them. They make more procreating than they would working. Get rid of the baby bonus, get back to a pack of diapers a month like I received back in the early 80's

  • Maggy Carter
    May 27, 2014 - 19:53

    'There is a better way to go about filling gaping job markets'. There is - but no, it's not 'called immigration'. It isn't that immigration - temporary or permanent - shouldn't play a role, but not the role McDonald's and the like want it to play. Your analysis should have started with an acknowledgement that this province still has the highest rate of unemployment in Canada. You're assertion that 'in small communities .....there are simply not enough low-wage job seekers available' is simply wrong. This is predominantly an urban problem - to the extent it is or needs to be a problem at all. As the post below from Terry Strang points out, our business groups constantly hype the value of market forces except when it comes to the supply of labour. The Cathy Bennetts of the world are wont to ignore the word 'minimum' in minimum wage such that it becomes the go-to wage no matter what the supply/demand curve might be telling them. Rather than raise that wage marginally to bring the two into equilibrium, they resort to the unlimited supply of cheap off-shore labour. And because our politicians are in the pockets of corporate Canada, they were happy to open the door and wave them in - at least until the public got wind of the scam. We had the spectre of food service workers crowded into their employer's slum rental units, overworked, underpaid and abused in every way possible. Yes we like our cheap burgers (at least some of us do) but do you really want that burger prepared by someone living under those conditions. So, in effect, the TFW program has allowed the food industry - and no doubt other industries - to abuse the groups they don't hire and the groups they do simultaneously. While we create employment opportunities for non-Canadians, the gainfully employed - one way or another - must foot the safety net for those who are not. The solution is to adopt policies that induce industry to invest more in training (the lowest among OECD countries), in mobility (facilitating the free movement of labour), innovation targeted at labour efficiency (again among the lowest), and in wage rates that are competitive on a regional basis - before allowing it to import workers. Unwilling or unable to operate within those parameters, then accept the judgement of the market - go out of business!

  • Nope
    May 27, 2014 - 18:48

    If there truly were shortages, business would be willing to pay whatever it takes, or they would change their plans. It has been decided that many of these jobs are of the 'minimum wage' variety, when in reality, wages are dictated by supply and demand - unless you can get a business friendly government to provide you with a low cost alternative. The restaurant industry has always been rife with abuses. Providing them with a steady stream of vulnerable workers, without oversight or enforcement is about the worst idea ever.

  • Paul
    May 27, 2014 - 15:10

    Your final statement is astounding and poof of your lack of research and understanding of the issue "There is a better way to go about filling gaping job markets. It’s called immigration." There are foreign workers in Newfoundland in the Medical field, academia, engineering, and many other professions including the Clergy! Their work permit is in demand to local urgent needs and are given priority processing by embassies, even if it takes 3-6 months to process! Would it be fair to Canadian engineering students for Govt to fill temporary positions with foreign engineers Permanently! In the case of the foreign worker in the restaurant the minute you grant immigration status to this foreign worker, they will move on to another job, and the employer will then bring in another worker! All foreign workers in Canada have the same protection as Canadians under every piece of legislation! The Charter begins with " every person in Canada"! These foreign workers in Canada have demanded fair treatment and will receive it not unlike a local person with housing issues who goes to CBC or to the telegram for assistance!

  • Morris
    May 27, 2014 - 10:41

    The editorial by is reflexively liberal, poorly written, a opinion based on opinions, and simply put a “ lazy piece of journalism". There are numerous Canadian academic and other institutional studies on foreign workers including those in the “ food service sector” available for journalist as raw material for their reporting and dare I say investigating. Why did you choose only the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Globe& Mail report of the AFL info as your source of raw reliable material? You state that the number of foreign workers in NL has mushroomed from 2005-2014 by more than 250%, without identifying the increase by category, professionals/skilled, students, or workers in “ food service sector”. Yes, the foreign worker program, with respect to the “ food service sector” need to be changed. Major abuse of the system has occurred. However you conclusion, based on all your extensive research, that “ immigration” or permanent residency, is the answer to the abuse is not logical. Are you suggesting that Canada have a new stream of applications for permanent residency “ immigration”, called the food-service or the lower-skilled immigrant program, available through all our embassies world-wide? Are you aware of the fact that after 2 years 99% of food-service workers in NL apply for and are nominated for permanent residency by the Gov. NL, through the Provincial Nominee Program without the employer having to re-advertise for the position? There is a path to citizenship in place, an very easy path. The comment, that Canadians are "exploiting the lower living standards of other countries” is ideological driven, and so cliche of editors of the 70’s, that it is embarrassing to read.

  • Terry Strang
    May 27, 2014 - 10:23

    Supply and demand a basic economic principle states when a product is in short supply prices will rise. Too bad businesses supported by our Government only want this axiom to work in their favour and not in their employees. If employees are in short supply raise the wages, it is simply supply and demand!

  • A mom
    May 27, 2014 - 09:31

    I believe that all workers should be paid the same min.wage.but to turn around and say it's addictions and people's social life is why they don't want a a min.wage job is wrong no one can support themselves or a family on that type of pay.A min.wage job is ok for a Young person or a student living at home with parents.it's also ok for someone who is living on a pension but looking for a few extra dollars.Realistic a young mother is better of on welfare then making ten dollars an hour.Maybe a social service receiver should be told to tak a min.wage job and social service subsidize there pay to bring them up to he standards of living,at least then maybe some of the strain will be lifted of our government.Most of these places even offer benefits in that case now you not need a drug plan,now you know why these young people don't want jobs.It's easier to get welfare and paid daycare.