Harper Government Sanctioned Misuse of TFW Program: Union

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Sat, Aug 16, 2014

Employment Minister Jason Kenney accused of mismanaging TFW program. (Photo:  Jake Wright via Wikimedia Commons)

Employment Minister Jason Kenney accused of mismanaging TFW program. (Photo: Jake Wright via Wikimedia Commons)

In a press release issued Friday, the Alberta Federation of Labour accused the Harper government of allowing companies to pay foreign workers less than Canadians.

Backing its claim with internal government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the labour organization describes the government’s attitude as “deliberate, pervasive and not limited to a few sectors of the Canadian economy.”

The documents also reveal that Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for the program, has been lying to Canadians about all those efforts to clean up and enforce the TFW program rules. When he fingered the food industry as the main abuser of the program. And when he banned that industry from using the program.

The Alberta Federation of Labour’s press release:

Evidence shows Harper government continues to allow TFW program to undermine Canadian wages

Edmonton – The wages of Canadians are continuing to be undermined by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Internal government documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that Alberta companies were given the green light to underpay thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers in 2013.

The documents are the latest evidence that the misuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is deliberate, pervasive and not limited to a few sectors of the Canadian economy.

“These documents are a snapshot of what was happening while Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for the program, was telling the public he had taken steps to better monitor and enforce the rules around the program,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Behind closed doors, they knew the rules were being bent and broken, and they knew thousands of TFWs were being underpaid and used as pawns to drive down wages for all Albertans.”

In 2013, 3,718 individual positions were approved across Canada in the low-skill categories, under 535 Labour Market Opinions (LMO).

Of those permits, the vast majority — 2,122 of them — were issued to employers in Alberta under 294 Labour Market Opinions.

TFWs were brought in to be paid less than Canadians as truck drivers, shipping and receiving, service station attendants, as health care workers, nurse aides, front desk clerks, metal fabrication labourers, delivery drivers, woodworking machine operators, heavy equipment operators, machining tool operators, automotive mechanics, mine labourers, and concrete, clay, and stone forming operators.

“As you look at these documents, it’s pretty clear that the problems in the Temporary Foreign Worker program extend far beyond the food services industry,” McGowan said. “These documents show the TFW program is being used to keep wages low, and to pay people less than what is paid to Canadians.”

TFWP regulations give Minister Kenney’s department the power to deny work permits if wages offered a worker in the Program are below prevailing regional wages for that particular occupation.

“PC leadership candidates, Conservative Members of Parliament, even Justin Trudeau are whining about the changes to the TFW Program,” McGowan said. “Whenever you hear a politician fighting to expand the TFW program, you know that they’re working for low-wage lobbyists and insiders, not for the good of Albertans.”

The documents, which contain records from all Canadian provinces and territories, can be accessed here:

LMOs issued for less than prevailing wage rates

Overview of locations and jobs where TFWs were paid less than Canadians

“What was happening last year is the program was being used by hundreds or perhaps thousands of employers, not only to displace Canadians, but to drive down wages – for both temporary foreign workers and Canadians,” Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told the Globe and Mail.

There is a disturbing racist and colonialist element in all this. The kind experienced by almost all colonized peoples, when the colonizer sought to extract profit from local resources at the lowest possible labour cost. The majority of temporary foreign workers are from the global south. And they’re persons of colour.

Earlier this year, an opinion piece published by the Toronto Star discussed the inherent racism of the TFW program. The piece highlighted temporary foreign workers’ “modest labour rights,” “working and living conditions that differ dramatically from those of Canadian citizens,” “persistent threat of deportation,” and denial of health coverage and legal residency status.

To quote the Toronto Star:

It is not a historical accident that workers from the global South, regions of the world that have long suffered cruel treatment from rich and powerful countries, face systemic discrimination through a program that imposes temporary status. Temporary foreign worker programs emerged out of the legacy of slavery and indentureship and have a long history of thrusting workers into hyper-exploitative working conditions.

Earlier this year, a study conducted by the C.D. Howe Institute concluded that the has spurred unemployment in Alberta and British Columbia.

McGowan says the temporary foreign worker program should be scrapped: “This is not a program that can be tweaked or reformed around the edges. As long as this program exists, whether it’s tweaked at the margins or not, employers are going to find ways of using temporary foreign workers as pawns to drive down wages and conditions.”

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad