You take two steps forward and one HUGE step back.In last month’s federal budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said employers would have to make every effort to hire unemployed Canadians before they’d be allowed to bring in temporary foreign workers.But in reality, the federal Conservative government’s entire immigration policy is geared to just one goal: lowering wages.On Wednesday, Finley journeyed to Alberta to announce that Ottawa will make it easier — not harder — for employers to hire temporary foreign skilled workers.More importantly, she said Ottawa will allow employers to pay such foreign workers 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage.Up to now, employers had to pay temporary foreign skilled workers the going rate. If comparable Canadian workers in an area received on average, say, $20 an hour, foreign workers would have to be paid the same.
You can pretty much see where this is going to go. The business community will do what it can to go with the immigrant option since it's in its interest to do so. Why should you go local when you can go international at a 15% discount? This lowers the bar for everyone since Canadians will be forced to accept a lowered income or face international competition. This will then set a new lower wage level which in turn will be undermined further by legally allowing the paying of "temporary" foreign workers a lower wage. The effect will be a race to the lowest of income brackets.
We are led to assume that there is a labour shortage in this country but I think for the most part that's an overstatement. There may be labour shortages in some sectors of the economy but those are temporary because they are riding a wave of speculation. Alberta and its one-horse-town economy is benefiting from a boom in oil prices made possible by deregulation in the futures market that has given speculative capital more power to influence the prices of commodities. The same can be said for most of Canada's resource sector. Canada's housing market is said to be in bubble territory and being so has fuelled a demand for skilled tradesmen needed to help pump air into it. The many competing projects has created a labour shortage in this sector of employment that otherwise would not exist or has been exaggerated had it not been for speculative capital coming mostly from Asia.
In other cases it's deliberately manufactured. There are tricks to accomplishing this. One is a business will advertise a job opening, get responses, hire no one because it had no intention of doing so, and then whine to the government about how local labour can't be found compelling them to look abroad in order to hire someone who will work it and cheaper. Another is to make the job so unattractive that no one will do it, not even immigrants at least in the long term.
Let's stop kidding ourselves and drop the "immigrants do jobs Canadians won't do" trope because it's sheer nonsense. To lionize immigrants for this is and to shame Canadians in the process works against everyone's interests. We know immigrants don't want to do these jobs either but they do them nonetheless to satisfy immigration requirements to land permanent residency. Once that is assured they leave the job to compete for jobs Canadians want to do. Why wouldn't they? Besides, pay someone enough and they'll do any job but as long as immigrants are willing to work for the lowest legal wage possible (and even lower in some cases) then why bother offering someone a wage that will at least put him or her over the poverty level?
I can see other problems as well. This will allow employers to circumvent minimum wage laws. It also discourages employers from adhering to more than just the minimum health and safety regulations. Indeed, they may shirk them altogether because an obsequious, largely immigrant workforce with undetermined residency status will be least likely to complain for fear of deportation. It also discourages investing in innovation because it offers the cheap, imported, manual labour option.
There is a solution that has been offered time and time again:
All in all, the majority of us lose but isn't that always the case?Employers could solve their labour shortages by offering higher wages or — in the case of skilled trades — by training Canadians to do the job.But, if government is willing, it’s easier and more profitable to import cheaper, trained labour from abroad.
This is why I have an uncertain opinion regarding Jason Kenney's performance as Minister of Immigration. On the one hand he is introducing much needed reforms to the immigration system but then goes ahead and does something stupid by explicitly allowing employers to use immigrants to attack the incomes of working Canadians as if they are not having a tough enough time making a living already. But he has refused to decrease immigration levels in a recessed economy so should I be surprised?And this government has shown that it’s willing. It says that if Canadians don’t want to see jobs going to foreigners, they should quit whining and accept lower wages.Which is why Ottawa’s answer to complaints made about temporary foreign workers is to toughen Employment Insurance rules.Kenney has warned that unemployed workers who refuse to take low-wage jobs will have their EI benefits cut off. If Canadians agree to work for less, he explains, Ottawa won’t have to bring in as many low-wage outsiders.
And he is part of a government that preaches austerity, toughens EI eligibility, and raises the age requirement for OAS. Meanwhile it thinks the gold-plated pension plans of MPs that come into effect after six years of "service" and can be collected at age fifty-five starting at a minimum of $25,000 a year (increasing the more years you serve) is an issue that is best left untouched only to be discussed, if needed, at some unspecified later date preferably when Canadians have forgotten about it. I can see why Jason Kenney would be interested in forcing unemployed workers into accepting low wage jobs that I'm almost certain he'd refuse were he in the same situation. Someone needs to pay for his ballooning pension. And when it comes to doling out the benefits don't you think Canada's MPs are more deserving of it than us? Of course they do! They work hard for the good of nation, God bless their souls.