Jim Stanford, Economist with the CAW, had an interesting post over at PEF the other day regarding temporary foreign workers (TFW) in the Canadian labour market. He posites that the government budget emphasis on expanding the TFW Plan will put downward pressure on wages. That’s fairly obvious; actually that’s the objective.
A significant part of the downward pressure on wages over the last three decades has been the export of manufacturing and call centre jobs to poorer, less-developed countries with substantially lower prevailing wages, those wages entirely attributable to a much lower standard-of-living.
However, with the Canadian economy heavily reliant on natural resources, and with a federal government intent on embracing/expanding the ‘hewers of wood and pitchers of water’ resource-based economic model, there is an obvious problem: The poor in those less-developed countries cannot dig up / chop down / catch / haul Canada’s natural resources – nor can they work local general labour jobs, as Jim suggets – remotely. However, opening the border for immigrants to fill those jobs would result in a deluge of immigration applications. The answer: a restrictive temporary migrant worker program, the TFW Plan. Workers entering the country under the program would not be granted the same rights as Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, making it easier for employers to underpay them and terminate their employment, and for the government to remove them from the country once they’ve served their purpose.
The federal government policy being what it is, the least Canadians would expect is some accountability. They would expect their government to collect data to assess the impact TFW have on the overall labour market in Canada. Unfortunately, the Labour Force Survey (LFS), the only national survey that regularly collects labour market data from individual respondents, does not collect data specific to TFW. Rather, TFW are lumped in with ‘Others’ in terms of immigration status
Others: individuals residing in Canada who were born outside of Canada and are not landed immigrants—e.g., temporary foreign workers, Canadian citizens born outside Canada and those with student or working visas.
Source: Definitions and concepts used by the Labour Force Survey : Immigrant type
And no information on these immigrant ‘Others’ labour market outcomes is reported
3. The sum of “Landed immigrants” and “Born in Canada” do not add up to the “Total”. Included in the total are Canadian citizens born outside Canada and non-permanent residents.
Source: CANSIM Table 282-0101 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by immigrant status, age group, Canada, regions, provinces and Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver census metropolitan areas, 3-month moving average, unadjusted for seasonality
Granted, counting TFW might skew certain figures like unemployment and union coverage, since they are assumed to all be employed and non-unionised. What of the duration of their continuous employment, the number of hours they work, their wages, their industry/occupation (is it really more resource-based or broader general labour), their demographics…? All good questions. Unfortunately, ones which cannot be answered, at least not with data from LFS.
The one thing that is known, as Jim points out, is TFW numbers are growing.
Oh, and if one should be critical of the TFW Plan, one should be prepared to be called a racist:
Kenney defends foreign worker policies
Alberta Federation of Labour (repost Bill Kaufmann, Sun Media) April 15, 2009
Union leaders questioning the entry of foreign workers into Canada are potentially inciting public opinion against newcomers, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said
Another creative use of the TFW Plan
Foreign worker review will translate into EI cuts: MP
CBC News April 23, 2012
Kenney told the Halifax Chamber of Commerce that EI recipients may be forced to take on minimum-wage jobs that have been filled by imported workers.