Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tim Horton's in trouble of foreign worker treatment

The issue of the use and abuse of Canada's temporary foreign worker (TFW) program has been in the headlines quite a lot lately. In BC, a mining company is in trouble after it made speaking Mandarin a job requirement (likely in violation of the BC Human Rights Code), couldn't find any Canadian miners who speak Mandarin (cough, cough), and thus sought out a couple of hundred Chinese workers.

This morning, Tim Horton's is in the headlines with complaints about the treatment of TFWs in both Saskatchewan and BC. There is nothing surprising in these stories--guest workers are exploited by employers all over the world, including in Canada. What is interesting can be found in the comments section for these articles.

There is a growing understanding by readers that the "labour market shortage" argument advanced by governments and employers to justify TFWs is not as ironclad as it first appears. Several commenters are (implicitly) noting that higher wages tend to draw more workers into the workplace, thus a labour shortage exists only so long as present wage and working conditions continue. Higher wages or better working conditions can alleviate it without the need to resort to vulnerable migrant workers.

I'm not suggesting that there is widespread adoption of this line of thinking, but it is circulating and it is occurring more frequently in discussions around TFWs. My sense is that the public is about to put together the economic angle (companies use TFWs to suppress domestic wages) with the moral angle (TFWs are exploited and abused). They are also about to take note that the federal government is colluding with employers to limits domestic wages and abuse foreign nationals. That will become a significant public policy issue for the Harper government to manage in 2012.

-- Bob Barnetson

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