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.
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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.