Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Research: Impact of TFWs on gender equity in construction

Today, Jason Foster and I are presenting a paper at the Canadian Political Science Association conference in Ottawa entitled “The Impact of Temporary Foreign Workers on Gender Equity in Alberta’s Construction Occupations, 2003-2013.” This paper is part of a panel about gender and employment-related geographic mobility in Alberta with Sara Dorow (UAlberta) and Angele Smith (U Northern BC).

Alberta’s construction industry claimed a labour shortage in the mid 2000s. A labour shortage often makes employers antsie because wages rise and workers will put up with less bullshit (i.e., the labour market starts working for workers). Employers and the provincial government vowed to hire more under-represented groups to ease the shortage (this typically means women, youth, aboriginal and disabled workers--this is a pretty standard promise that never seems to actually play out). At the same time, the feds made it easier (i.e., cheaper) to hire temporary foreign workers (TFWs).

Our initial question was what effect did immigration policy changes have on female participation in the construction industry? Women are generally under-represented in construction (14%) and the trades (7%). You’d think, in a tight labour market, female participation would rise. After some really boring angst around the data, what we found was this:
  1. Participation rates of Canadian women in the trades, transport and equipment operator occupations stayed static over time (about 7%) but the overall number rose.
  2. Participation rates by Canadian men in these occupations fell as did the overall number.
  3. Participation rates by TFWs (almost all men) in these occupations rose (as did overall numbers) and this change is correlated in a statistically significant way to the decline in Canadian men.
Basically, it looks like employers substituted TFWs for male Canadian workers. The cause of this shift (i.e., were Canadian men were unavailable, or do employers preferred TFWs) is not clear. Other research Jason has conducted suggests employers have come to prefer TFWs to Canadian workers because employers can drive TFWs harder.

It is also unclear what relationship TFWs have to female participation. An interesting thought experiment is what do you suppose would have happened to female participation had the feds not made it easier for employers to hire TFWs? We suspect that employers would have taken steps to increase female participation rates, perhaps by changing workplace practices to make the jobs more appealing to women. In this way, federal immigration policy may have retarded employment equity.

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. In my late teens I worked for an Electrical contractor in reception. In walked a lady not much older than I and she asked to speak with the person who hires to inquire if they were hiring apprentices. At the time, I knew we had been hiring, but was not in the position of authority to verify. The man in charge of that spoke very politely to her, and informed her that unfortunately we were not hiring. She walked out the door and he turned to me and said, "if I hired that pretty young thing, there'd be no work done on the jobsite". The stigma of 'breasts in the vicinity' is still prevalent today and will not change without having more women in the industry to break the norm, but few will hire the women who will promote change within. I can't decide if it's right or not to enact the equal-rights hiring that was enacted into government agencies to battle this gender equality.