A big jump in the number of guest workers is hurting low-wage employees and others across Canada, according to economists.The number of non-permanent foreign workers arriving in Canada each year has doubled in the past decade, escalating particularly after the federal Liberal government was elected in 2015.Partly as a result of the increasing flow of guest workers, UBC economist David Green and Carleton University’s Christopher Worswick say in a paper that new immigrants are doing “worse and worse” in regards to earned incomes. And it’s Canada’s low-wage workers who are suffering the most.Even though businesses frequently lobby politicians to allow more guest employees, Green says the latest hikes are putting downward pressure on wages and threatening respect for workers. They’re exacerbating the kind of scenario, he said, that lead to the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s Brexit movement.Saying it’s “truly dumb” for the federal government to continue boosting low-skilled guest workers in the country, Green emphasized the vast majority of Canadians don’t appear to be aware of the labour-market shift. “It’s totally under the radar.”While temporary workers were initially billed as a way to rescue businesses that needed to make up short-term skill shortages in certain sectors, low-skill guest workers from overseas are now increasingly being brought in to staff fast-food restaurants, fill shelves at supermarkets and perform basic kitchen duties.In the face of a 2013 backlash against the increased volume of foreign workers in Canada, former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney drastically cut their numbers. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has jacked up the totals much higher.The new river of guest workers in Canada “releases the pressure on firms to provide better jobs, jobs where you have control over your time, where the pay is decent. It lets the steam off. And that pushes us toward a society that doesn’t respect workers so much,” said Green, a professor in the Vancouver school of economics and a fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.Related
It’s difficult for the public to recognize that guest worker numbers have grown at a much faster pace than more-often discussed immigration levels, which have expanded by 30 per cent since 2015, with about 320,000 now being approved annually.The official temporary foreign worker program, which attracted such controversy in the Conservatives’ era, has not greatly expanded. But other guest-worker efforts have.One jump has come through the doubling of international students. In 2015 about 200,000 foreign students were arriving each year. By last year the number arriving annually on study visas had ballooned to more than 400,000. Most foreign students are allowed to work 20 hours a week, plus full-time during their summer or other breaks.The least-known migration policy change, however, has arguably been the biggest one for the labour market. That is the fourfold expansion of the so-called “international mobility” program, about which few Canadians have heard.In 2005 about 70,000 guest workers arrived under the “international mobility” category. But by 2018 Canada was accepting more than 250,000 in this category, which is typically made up of people on two-year visas, many of whom find jobs in the service sector.Informally known as travellers on “holiday worker” visas, such employees are often associated with young Australians working at ski resorts like Whistler, or with British globe trotters serving beer in pubs in Vancouver or Toronto.A UBC-backed website called Superdiversity, which has created interactive graphics based on immigration department data, shows the largest group of the more than 250,000 “international mobility” workers who arrived in Canada last year were from India, followed by those from the U.S., China, France and South Korea. Toronto took in about 70,000 international mobility workers in 2018, while Vancouver absorbed 30,000.
The volume of guest workers arriving in Canada each year lept up after the federal Liberals were elected. “TFWP” stands for temporary foreign worker program. “IMP” stands for international mobility program. “Study” stands for foreign students, who are allowed to work. Source: Superdiversity.
In line with the research of American economist Giovanni Peri and the University of Ottawa’s Pierre Brochu, Green described how owners of a Tim Horton’s franchise, a café or a supermarket often try to justify bringing in more guest workers by saying they can’t find anyone to fill the low-skill slot.“So they go to their local MP and say, ‘I’m in trouble here. I can’t get enough workers for my front counter.’ The real response to them should be, ‘Well, pay them more.’ But it’s not the answer they want to hear, because they want to make more profit,” Green said.Economists don’t really think it’s a problem that a fast-food restaurant owner or other service sector employer can’t hire workers at low wages, said Green. “When something is scarce, the price for it goes up and people and companies adjust. That’s the whole wonder of the capitalist system.”The low-wage problem is exacerbated in places like Metro Vancouver, where the cost of renting or owning homes is extreme. Instead of offering decent living wages to the people who live here, Green said many bosses are inclined to hire “people who live in housing with five other foreign workers.”A second trouble with Canadian companies increasingly relying on low-wage guest workers, Green said, is it leads to a more fearful workforce, incapable of demanding adherence to local labour standards or of forming a union.“Everyone knows these guest workers have no rights. If they lose their jobs they’re gone. They’re not about to complain. Canadian firms are now not only getting just lower-wage workers these days, they’re getting very compliant workers,” said Green.Even though a lot of commentators write off the supporters of Trump and Brexit as just “stupid people,” Green said, many have been workers who have felt that the promise of globalization, the transnational movement of capital and labour, has not benefited them.“These are people who feel there was a deal promised to them, where everyone would share in the benefits of deregulation and a more flexible labour market,” said Green.“But then governments did things like bring in more temporary foreign workers and those people are feeling like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ If you want people to feel like they have a share, don’t bring in somebody to replace them every time their wages start looking like they’re going to go up.”firstname.lastname@example.org/douglastodd
The number of guest workers in Metro Vancouver has jumped. “TFWP” stands for temporary foreign worker program. “IMP” stands for international mobility program” and “Study” stands for foreign students. Source: Superdiversity