Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Employer efforts to influence TFW availability in low-skill jobs

A recent UBC doctoral dissertation entitled Behind the counter: Migration, labour policy and temporary work in a global fast food chain has just come available. This dissertation examines the shift from local to global recruitment practices in western Canada’s low-waged service sector, with fast food and Tim Hortons serving as the industry and case study.

Beginning on page 34, the author documents employer efforts to access TFWs to fill low-skill jobs. Among the conclusions are that growth in unskilled TFWs does not reflects an absolute labour shortage, but rather an employer preference for TFWs who will accept undesirable jobs. Here is a particularly unflattering passage.
While all of my interview participants were well aware of the economic downturn and rising domestic unemployment levels, many stakeholders were nevertheless still openly critical of these policy changes, but especially the loss of the E-LMO. Some were quite candid that the growing unemployment rate is irrelevant to the ability of employers to attain food counter attendants; the shortage is not a numerical one but rather a question of available and preferred workers to labour in low-status jobs under unfavourable conditions. For instance, during an interview with a fast food labour consultant he explained that the LSPP (now the S- LSO) exists to recruit workers into occupations that are “unattractive to Canadians” and in which the only people available for the jobs are “people that you would not want to employ to serve food in the restaurant because you’ll lose your restaurant”. As he elaborated, while some of these workers would like employment “they have to be able to handle customers, handle health regulations and do things in a reasonably methodical time manner, make change, and there’s lots of people out there that are not capable of that”. He later identified Aboriginal peoples, recent immigrants, and aging populations as constituting this group of undesirable workers (pp. 38-39).

 Overall, this dissertation suggests that the notion of a labour shortage being at the root of the expanding use of migrant workers in Canada is highly contestable.

-- Bob Barnetson

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