The new underclass

Who haven’t heard of immigration queue jumpers? The current federal government used this term when it shut down visa-free travel from the Czech Republic and Mexico. Federal officials blamed queue jumping refugee claimants. But if someone jumps the queue, it’s not refugees as much as it is temporary guest workers. And their biggest aider and abettor is Ottawa itself. Estimated 65,000 refugee claims were pending in 2008, but almost 192,519 foreigners came to Canada as temporary workers last year. A Toronto Star investigation revealed that many of them are vulnerable, abused, and prone to go underground, especially during a recession. The Canadian government wants to be in the labour supply business, but it’s not doing a good job.

Courtesy of daveblume@flickrThe temp worker program lets employers select employees abroad if the federal labour officials certify a worker shortage in the employer’s industry. Today, most foreign workers go to farms, oil fields and into other low-skilled jobs, and many eventually end up in the underground economy. The current government in particular has let an unprecedented number of low-skilled migrants in Canada. Ottawa essentially acts as a giant recruitment agency that sizes up clients’ labour needs and fills them with people from foreign countries on condition that they go back home after two years. Foreign workers can’t switch jobs without the government’s permission. In Ontario and Alberta seasonal agricultural workers can’t join unions. And low-skilled workers can’t easily apply for permanent residence in Canada. After all, the idea is to bring in cyclical labour.

And cyclical labour they bring. Farms needs crop gatherers. Fast food joints need burger flippers. Energy companies need oil-sand workers. There are so many people in the world willing to work for much less than Canadians. Cheap labour, like any other cheap resource, can translate into lower costs across the production chain and lead to lower prices, economic growth, and general happiness. And the conventional wisdom goes that Canadians don’t want to do those jobs anyway. Temporary workers are also not supposed to strain our health care because they don’t grow old here. We have a constant supply of fresh, young, cheap labour thanks to the federal super recruiters in Ottawa. Right?

Wrong. The Toronto Star investigation revealed a widespread abuse of temporary foreign workers. Some employers take advantage of their weak bargaining power. Some employers refuse to pay their wages. Some pay much less than promised. Some fire workers without regard to their labour rights. Foreign workers often come from poor countries after borrowing thousands of dollars for the trip and middlemen’s fees. They feed their families who stayed behind. The law doesn’t let them switch employers easily.  It’s not exactly a position of power in negotiating your job conditions. The Toronto Star report shows how many workers end up underground. They are the real queue jumpers, but who dare blame these abused people? Where they jump is not permanent residence in Canada but permanent limbo. They jump to a life of fear of authorities and working underground. Debts, hungry families overseas, and false hopes stop them from leaving.

Courtesy of The Epoch Times

They form a massive underclass—desperate and without rights—pushing many of them into crime. We have traditionally had two classes of people who lived in Canada: citizens and permanent residents. Their rights are similar but permanent residents lack some important rights that all citizens enjoy. Today we are adding a third class and even a fourth class way down the social ladder: the temporary workers with few rights and the temporary workers gone illegal—with almost no rights. Economic cycles come and go, but marginalized migrants will stay.

The government should get out of the labour supply business. If a job is low-paid, it doesn’t mean that Canadians don’t want to do it. It means the job must be better paid. And the market will take care of it without Ottawa’s bureaucrats crunching numbers in their spreadsheets. By importing massive cheap labour the federal government discourages higher productivity and wages. Unless a job involves killing people, there is hardly a qualified Canadian who wouldn’t take it for a fair wage. And if there are no takers, the job doesn’t belong in Canada.

The immigration policy should target the real issue instead of tampering with the labour market. And the real issue is the population growth. We desperately need more people in Canada, and the only realistic source is immigration. But we need immigrants with full rights, who are proud and secure and who understand and value the Canadian society. About 900,000 of potential permanent residents and future citizens are languishing in the huge backlog. In the meantime, Ottawa tempts hundreds of thousands of the world’s vulnerable to jump the queue and end up as marginalized migrants in Canada’s cities.

By Pulat Yunusov


3 Comments on "The new underclass"

  1. Alton Bronski | November 8, 2009 at 5:59 am |

    When you use the phrase “labor shortage” or “skills shortage” you’re speaking in a sentence fragment. What you actually mean to say is: “There is a labor shortage at the salary level I’m willing to pay.” That statement is the correct phrase; the complete sentence and the intellectually honest statement.

    Employers speak about shortages as though they represent some absolute, readily identifiable lack of desirable services. Price is rarely accorded its proper importance in their discussion.

    If you start raising wages and improving working conditions, and continue doing so, you’ll solve your shortage and will have people lining up around the block to work for you even if you need to have huge piles of steaming manure hand-scooped on a blazing summer afternoon.

    Re: Shortage caused by employees retiring out of the workforce: With the majority of retirement accounts down about 50% or more, most people entering retirement age are working well into their sunset years. So, you won’t be getting a worker shortage anytime soon due to retirees exiting the workforce.

    Okay, fine. Some specialized jobs require training and/or certification, again, the solution is higher wages and improved benefits. People will self-fund their re-education so that they can enter the industry in a work-ready state. The attractive wages, working conditions and career prospects of technology during the 1980’s and 1990’s was a prime example of people’s willingness to self-fund their own career re-education.

    There is never enough of any good or service to satisfy all wants or desires. A buyer, or employer, must give up something to get something. They must pay the market price and forego whatever else he could have for the same price. The forces of supply and demand determine these prices — and the price of a skilled workman is no exception. The buyer can take it or leave it. However, those who choose to leave it (because of lack of funds or personal preference) must not cry shortage. The good is available at the market price. All goods and services are scarce, but scarcity and shortages are by no means synonymous. Scarcity is a regrettable and unavoidable fact.

    Shortages are purely a function of price. The only way in which a shortage has existed, or ever will exist, is in cases where the “going price” has been held below the market-clearing price.

  2. Canada, has cried and cried, saying there is a shortage of technology staff. Where are these jobs. A neighbor is an Electronics Engineer Technologist, who is applying for work overseas, where there are thousands of technical jobs. Why is Canada still using thirty year old technology in mines etc. Governing officials, seem to have no answer to these kind of questions. I was shocked by how many Canadian citizens, have had to go overseas to work? I am wondering if Canada has sold off the natural resources to other country’s, and they are just sitting on them, and capping off our gas fields for a more profitable time.

  3. As a foreig worker in Canada, from my own perspective Canadians seem to be:
    1. Under-educated
    2. Very narrow minded, don’t seem to care about learning other languages, cultures, and what it is going around the world.
    3. Lots of drugs, few working skills.

    And I am not talking about the typical joe from the bush, I am talking about people with degrees, ask them about global news and they know nothing, they base their knowledge on CNN.

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