Columnists

Jim Stanford
Temporary foreign workers and the labour market

| May 9, 2012
Employment: Canadian and Temporary Foreign Workers 2007-2011

Further to recent commentary regarding the Harper government's dramatic expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TWF) program, consider this shocking factoid.

Even before the expansion of the program envisioned in the current omnibus "budget" bill, temporary foreign workers (who do not have the same rights as other Canadian workers, and whose presence here depends entirely on keeping their employers happy) already accounted for almost 30 per cent of all net new paid jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011.

The TFW data in the above table comes from the annual CIC tables, based on the stock of TFW workers as of December 1 each year. Comparing those figures to total paid employment (employees, not counting self-employed) over the same time period, it turns out that over 29 per cent of all net new positions went to TFWs.

The TFW program, therefore, is not a marginal activity; this represents the core of labour market strategy by employers and this obliging government. TFW guest workers are not working primarily on farms or in the oil sands; they are working anywhere in the country (over one-third of them in Ontario) that employers complain they can't find workers to do the right job at the right price. That, after all, is the essence of the "labour extraction problem" that is at the core of capitalist labour relations (read chapter 8 of Economics for Everyone for a crash course). Hence, this initiative by Harper & Co. is aimed at relaxing a fundamental constraint on class relations in our whole labour market, and in that regard represents a very important (and dangerous) shift in the balance of power in our society.

Now, of course, the Harper government has given free reign for employers to tap desperate workers from other countries (with just 10 days' notice), and given explicit approval to using that supply of labour to drive down Canadian wages. Allowing TFW employers to pay 15 per cent below the "going rate," of course, is a moving target. This practice itself will result in a reduction in the going rate, which in turn will allow TFW employers to pay even less for guest workers in the future.

So we can expect, barring a strong and ambitious fightback, these desperate guest workers to play an even larger role in our labour market than they already have since 2007.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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