Temporary status breeds super exploitation

Community News & Features Jul 11, 2014 at 6:10 pm
Dr. Salimah Valiani

Dr. Salimah Valiani

Dr. Salimah Valiani’s comments on the 2014 reforms of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program(TFWP) and Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP):

I agree with Migrante (BC) that  “Under these “changes”, migrant workers are generally still where they are – being used, abused, and then disposed of”, but I would add that this is the case for BOTH so-called ‘low wage’ and ‘high wage’ migrant workers. We should not be fooled by the new line being drawn by government between low wage and high wage temporary migrant workers. All temporary migrant workers in Canada tend to earn lower wages than Canada-based workers—whether so-called low-skilled, skilled or high-skilled. In fact, those entering Canada with more formal education have higher income differentials relative to their Canada-based colleagues. A June 2010 Statistics Canada study demonstrated that while a Canadian-born worker with a university degree earned 674 dollars per week more than a Canadian-born worker without a degree in 2006, a temporary migrant worker with a degree earned 512 dollars more per week, and a temporary migrant worker from a country of the global South earned only 196 dollars more per week. So the scrutiny to be applied only to the use of migrant workers in ‘low wage’ occupations in the reformed TFWP misses (a) the key problem, which is that temporary immigration status breeds super-exploitation, and (b) the key goal, which is equality and permanent residency for all.

On the whole, this reform is about the coming federal elections, and the need of the Conservatives to appear to be championing the rights of Canadian workers. In its typical racist style, the Conservative Party is using the reform of the TFWP – which had become a demand from all quarters – to draw a division between ‘Canadian workers’ and ‘foreign workers’. Through the reform, the Conservatives are reserving dwindling job opportunities in Canada for unemployed workers based in Canada. In this sense, Canadian unions which were concerned narrowly with the replacement of local workers with temporary migrants have gotten their way through this reform. But those unions and others concerned about full rights and entitlements for all workers know the reform is woefully inadequate. It does nothing to welcome workers making much needed contributions as permanent residents. In the Maritimes, for example, there are even employers who favour offering permanent residency to temporary migrants because they are vital to building communities where there are actual labour shortages, including in so-called ‘low wage’ occupations.

Another area in which the reform is likely to be inadequate is in curbing workplace abuse of temporary migrant workers. The government claims it will hire more federal labour inspectors who will do spot checks of employers with temporary migrants on staff – one out of every four of such workplaces. Within the context of massive cuts of the federal public service under the Conservative government – some 7.5 billion dollars or 60,000 jobs between 2007 and 2014 – it is hard to believe that money will be spent on new labour inspectors. This must be watched, but even so, one of every four workplaces is a poor ratio for situations in which abuse has been proven to be widespread: everything from the removal of passports of temporary migrant workers by employers to the lack of enforcement of safety standards for temporary migrants in Canada.

In terms of Jason Kenney’s most recent pronouncement that the Live-in Caregiver Program is being used for back door family reunification – this is nothing but the usual for Jason Kenney. As retired senior CIC official Andrew Griffith (2013) has documented in his book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, anecdotes and popular sentiment are used as a basis for policy making rather than facts. Kenney was recently in Manila and claims he heard questions from people going to work for family members under the LCP. Most likely from this, he has concluded that this is the case for everyone or most in the LCP. For sure there are some workers who come to Canada to care for family members under the LCP. This is because like other employers in the LCP, these ‘relatives’ need caregivers for their children or elders in the family, and the federal or/and provincial governments are not providing adequate public care services for these needs. But as in other cases of the LCP, LCP workers employed by relatives face abuse – given the temporary immigration status, the requirement to live-in, and the power differential that goes along with these. Added to these are family dynamics and histories, and we know there is a history of violence for women in families of all kinds in Canada. In focus groups I did with LCP workers across the country, some of the most harrowing accounts of abuse were told by those working for relatives in Canada. Is this what Kenney means by ‘back door family reunification’?

**For more analysis of so-called high skilled temporary labour migration in Canada, see my opinion piece at

http://rabble.ca/news/2013/04/rbc-apologizes-replacement-and-underpayment-workers-remains-widespread-problem