For immediate release
May 13, 2013
Toronto, ON—The Congress of Progressive Filipino Canadians (CPFC) stands firm against the Conservative government’s hypocrisy in masquerading concern for the job security of all workers in Canada through their recent reforms to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), despite hitting workers with their prevailing agenda to continue cheapening and contractualizing labour. Packaged as a plan to “ensure Canadians have first chance at available jobs”, the recent reforms are otherwise a form of lip service to the recent public outcry against the controversial Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) case. These changes stand as the Conservative government’s latest attempt to shed themselves of all accountability as the leading brokers and agents of the TFWP and the ongoing unemployment crisis. With the expansion of the TFWP and rising unemployment rates, the Conservative government cannot hide behind such backhanded tactics and must still be held accountable for furthering insecurity and temporariness for all workers in Canada.
We must recognize that these reforms are an attempt to legitimize the inherently exploitative and oppressive design of the TFWP. Such policies are part and parcel of the current neoliberal agenda to bring down wages, diminish workers’ rights, and expand the pool of cheap, flexible and disposable labour. The recent reforms simply prove that, as one of the main shareholders of the current economic system, the Conservative government has no interest in genuinely meeting the needs and addressing the conditions of workers in Canada.
In the words of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and HRSDC Minister Diane Finley, the reforms to the TFWP will ensure that “Canadian workers are never displaced” and that the program will be “only used as intended—to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis.” Yet with the TFWP’s ongoing expansion to meet the target of admitting 200,000 temporary workers, along with a host of austerity measures and cutbacks that push the interests of the private sector forward, it is clear that such band-aid solutions are of no benefit to workers whatsoever.
The reforms include: suspending proposed changes for wage cuts for temporary workers, revoking plans to expedite employer access to the Labour Market Opinion (LMO)—a mandatory document that grants employers the license to hire workers from outside Canada. The changes also include: increasing fees for work permits, divesting from the tax base to fund LMOs, and excluding foreign languages from job requirement criteria.
One of the central goals cited in the reforms is to reduce over-reliance on temporary foreign workers. This includes providing training for employers in order to avoid outsourcing, and to transition to Canadian workers over time. Yet, in all this, we must remember the words of Minister Diane Finley herself, who has stated in the past that the work performed by temporary foreign workers are simply jobs that “no other Canadian would take.” Skills shortages in critical sectors of the labour market are only shortages insofar as Canadian workers are unlikely to fill the jobs for cheap wages and under such exploitative conditions.
While Finley and Kenney claim that the TFWP “displaces” Canadian workers from job opportunities, we must understand that what essentially exists through the TFWP is a two-tiered labour system that legitimizes abject exploitation on racial and national lines. “While the TFWP exists, employers will be all too happy to gain access to cheaper labour, while the government will show no restraint in providing it,” says Cecilia Diocson, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada. “While they continue to benefit, the TFWP will never be a ‘last resort’ for anyone. We cannot be fooled by such divisive rhetoric while the critical issues of job security and unemployment are left unresolved,” continues Diocson.
As well, the changes include suspending measures that allow employers to pay temporary workers up to 15% less than the prevailing wage, and revoking the plan to expedite the processing of LMOs from 12-14 weeks to 10 weeks. The reforms also include measures to prevent abuse by promoting employer and government accountability. Notwithstanding such changes, however, the very existence of the TFWP is based on providing employers access to cheaper, temporary and more pliant labour. As the program exists to leverage “prevailing wage rates” to the cheaper end of the scale and to deregulate labour standards, the continued existence of the program ensures that temporary foreign workers are still paid cheaper wages than their Canadian counterpart, are made vulnerable to abuse and are denied their democratic rights as workers.
Any attempt to uphold prevailing wage rates are also rendered null and void by the proposal to increase work permit fees, which are paid out of the pockets of workers under the TFWP. As well, employers will now incur the cost of processing LMOs. While these changes are said to be aimed at reducing costs for Canadian taxpayers, we must remember that the contributions of temporary foreign workers account for a sizeable amount of Canada’s economic growth, in areas such as the consumption of goods and services, payment of hefty administrative fees, and their contributions to CPP and EI as workers in the mining, service, agricultural and information technology sectors, to name a few.
It is no accident that such wage rates and job flexibility are increasingly mirrored in labour market conditions outside of the TFWP, and that workers are forced to simply make do with less. The very existence of the TFWP as an employer-driven labour program shows but one aspect of an economic system that is inherently dependent on worsening regimes of exploitation. “As workers, we must be critical of the sugarcoating of CIC and HRSDC’s bottom line: to make labour cheaper and more temporary, and to continue amassing huge profits on the backs of all workers,” states Cora Cadiz, Chairperson of SIKLAB Canada. “We continue to be pitted against each other by policies that deny our job security and entitlements as workers,” Cadiz continues.
The CPFC stands firmly against the Conservative government’s divisive ploys that push forward their neoliberal agenda but are masqueraded as feigned interest in the needs of all workers. We will continue to forge genuine solidarity with the working-class in the struggle for our fundamental needs and concerns, and reiterate our call to hold the beneficiaries of this exploitative system accountable for furthering the instability and insecurity of all workers. We will heighten our call for genuine immigration programs and for the full participation and entitlement of the working-class.
End it, don’t mend it! Scrap the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!
Permanent settlement through genuine immigration now!
Stop the cuts! End the contractualization of labour!
Job security for all now!
Expose and oppose neoliberal globalization!
Organizations under the CPFC:
National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC)
SIKLAB Canada (Advance and Uphold the Struggle of Filipino Canadian Workers)
Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada/Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance—National
Sinag Bayan Arts Collective—National
Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights (PCTFHR)