Corak: What will COVID Mean for the Future of Fiscal and Social Policy? Temporary Foreign Workers aspects

From a recent presentation by Corak:

The federal government was very attentive to a whole host of concerns that can only be charitably described as poor public policy. These include repeated extensions of the CEWS, intergenerational transfers of capital gains, and most recently campaigns for extensions and forgiveness of loans taken through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

There is an important discussion to be had about the moral hazards associated with these changes, and their consequences for a dynamic and efficient small business sector. Indeed, all of this is piled onto a corporate tax structure that is increasingly making small businesses a tax haven and putting a break on productivity growth.

But the coup de grace in this unfortunate policy evolution is the government’s acquiesce to the demand for an expanded Temporary Foreign Worker program. Employers now have the opportunity to hire up to one-fifth, and in some cases 30 percent, of their low-wage workforce through the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

This represents a major wage subsidy, even if it is not recorded as an expenditure in the government’s books. It is just the opposite of what policy directed to an inclusive labour market should be doing. Low wage workers, those who have a tenuous foothold in the labour market either because they themselves are recent immigrants, have a disability, or are young, will likely see more limited wage growth and job opportunities as a result of this policy change.

This change may also potentially shut off the possibility of upgrading employment and human resource practices in the care economy, particularly in Long-Term Care facilities and in early childhood care. The pandemic illustrated that the use of contingent and itinerant work arrangements in long-term care homes had devastating and shameful consequences. The challenge for a policy maker wishing to promote an inclusive labour market is to transform this sector into a “craft” based economy, with upskilling of workers who offer community and family based care and support.

An unfortunate legacy of COVID on public policy directed to employers is the threat of growing inefficiencies and inequities as a result of subsidies that cannot be rationalized by any sort of market failure.

Post COVID policy incoherence threatens an inclusive labour market

Public policy may continue to make determined and important changes in a progressive and inclusive direction, and even take steps toward a tighter social safety net that some will appreciate as a basic income.

But other choices bring the very goal of a “strong and inclusive labour market” into question and in the long term threaten the sustainability of more generous transfers to individuals. The labour market will be more inefficient and inequitable because of sustained subsidies to small business and increased reliance on temporary foreign workers. 

And more polarization and inequality of jobs, wages, and market incomes will in turn make the maco-economy more unstable and more challenging to manage.

What will COVID mean for the future of fiscal and social policy? The future is unclear not because of inherent uncertainty, but rather because of explicit choice and the incoherence that it has engendered.

Source: What will COVID Mean for the Future of Fiscal and Social Policy?

Migrant workers have paid their dues and should be given a path to permanent residency

In looking at the issues related to migrant workers, it is important to unpack the different categories of these workers, ranging from the more specialized and higher skilled under the International Mobility Program to the smaller group of lower wage more vulnerable agriculture and related industry workers as shown in the chart below.

So while there is a need for stronger and higher regulation of agriculture workers and other vulnerable groups, including better and safer living conditions, the needs are lower for those coming in under the IMP (about 40 percent of IMP are from Europe and USA, in contrast to TFWP where less than 10 percent are).

Some questions. Does one need to grant permanent residency for what is essentially seasonal work in agriculture, or should the focus be on working and living conditions? If granted permanent residency, would agriculture workers remain in the sector? Do we have data on language fluency as an indicator of ease of integration or surveys that give a sense whether some workers prefer the seasonal nature of the work or not?

Canada has expanded its temporary migration system to bring in a steady supply of exploitable and interchangeable migrant workers who are coerced into accepting low wages and miserable working conditions below standards that Canadians would accept. Now, exposure to COVID-19 has been added to the terms of the bargain.

As scholars, researchers, and teachers of immigration in Canada, we urge our government to adopt long overdue measures to end the vulnerability and exploitation of migrant workers—many of whom are now deemed essential. A litany of studies and reports have long documented the adverse health, human rights, economic, and living conditions experienced by migrant workers, particularly among those in “low-wage positions” and in agriculture.

Contracting COVID-19 is just the latest price these essential workers have paid for sustaining Canada’s economy. Since March 2020, in the agricultural sector alone, more than 1,000 migrant workers have contracted COVID-19, and three workers have died. Migrant workers are also heavily represented in meat-packing plants, and long-term care facilities. Migrant workers do not bring the virus to Canada; the virus infects them here, because the system fails to ensure that workers live and work in safe environments.

Canada’s economy has hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs that depend on temporary migrant workers—harvesting crops, caring for children and the elderly, working in construction and meat packing, and a host of jobs across the service sector. Yet, the numbers of “temporary” migrant workers have skyrocketed—driven, unchecked, by employer demand, while governments and sectors spend little resources on protecting the health and safety of migrant workers. And, the system remains unchallenged, in part because workers do not have universal protection of collective bargaining rights, and employers vote; migrant workers do not.

Under numerous temporary worker program streams, Canada has annually rendered some 300,000 migrants a permanent underclass. Most come from the global south. Many are required to leave families behind, and must leave Canada when their visas expire. As a racialized workforce, their precarious position in the country is a marker of systemic racism. Despite their essential contributions to the Canadian economy, most have no direct pathway to permanent residency.

Migrant workers understandably fear retribution if they complain, try to improve their working conditions, seek health care, or attempt labour organizing. For doing so, precarious migrant workers can face abuse, termination of employment, loss of earnings and future employment, loss of status, and deportation.

Now is the perfect time to rectify this wrong. Canadians recognize, as never before, the essential contribution immigrants and migrant workers make to this country. Further, Canada will fall far short of its annual immigration targets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada aimed to admit 340,000 immigrants this year as permanent residents. Only about half that number will actually arrive. Future intake will also lag.

Canada needs permanent resident immigrants to address the challenges of its socio-demographic realities. Low birth rates, an aging population, and rural depopulation mean long-term skills shortages and labour market gaps across the country. Continuing to fill these gaps through temporary intake programs hurts not only migrant workers but also deprives hundreds of smaller communities of revitalization from the immigration advantage of permanent settlement.

It is a popular misconception that Canada does migrant workers a favour by allowing them to work hard, for little money, in hazardous and degrading conditions. The truth is that we are in their debt. We can no longer continue treating this work as essential and the people who do it as dispensable.

Migrant workers have paid their dues to Canada. It’s time for Canada to reciprocate by offering them permanent residency.

Dr. Harald Bauder is a professor and director of the Immigration Settlement and Studies Program, Ryerson University. Dr. Jenna Hennebry is an associate professor, International Migration Research Centre, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. Audrey Macklin is a professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. Dr. Myer Siemiatycki, is a professor emeritus and past founding director, Immigration Settlement and Studies Program, Ryerson University.

Source: Migrant workers have paid their dues and should be given a path to permanent residency

Ottawa offers cash, more promises of reform for migrant workers in the agriculture industry

While the changes never go far enough for the activists, nevertheless the funding and related initiatives should result in improvement:

Ottawa will spend $58.6-million in efforts to improve the health and safety of temporary foreign workers in the agriculture industry, amid criticism that the government has not done enough to protect migrant farm workers.

The added funding is aimed at increasing inspections and improving employee housing. The government also said it will consult with provinces, employers, workers and foreign partner countries in the coming months to develop a “co-ordinated national approach” – mandatory requirements on employer-provided accommodations to ensure better living conditions for workers.

Advocates, medical experts and workers have long warned that poor living and working conditions are threatening workers’ health and safety – with these risks only heightened with the pandemic. More than 1,300 migrant farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario alone, according to a Globe and Mail survey of local public-health units, and three have died – one of whom was just 24.

A Globe investigation into the outbreaks in June revealed the unsafe conditions experienced by some farm workers. Interviews, photos and videos showed crowded bedrooms, broken toilets, cockroaches and bed-bug infestations. Workers cited a lack of access to PPE and pressure to keep working, even when suffering with symptoms of COVID-19.

And while the federal government is ultimately in charge of the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program, The Globe’s subsequent reporting found a lapse concerning in-person inspections and little enforcement of the rules at the height of the pandemic meant to protect workers.

“We look at the tragedies that have hit the temporary foreign workers’ community with deep sorrow. This is something that is on Canadians,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday, adding that there are “lots of changes that we need to make.”

In an interview with The Globe in June, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said the federal government was planning an overhaul of the TFW program. On Friday, she said there are still “reported cases of inappropriate behaviour and unsafe working conditions.”

Workers, health professionals and rights groups said the measures still fall short, and don’t address systemic problems embedded in the structure of the program, where a precarious work status leaves workers unable to protect their rights for fear of being fired and deported.

Gabriel Flores, a farm worker in Ontario who tested positive for COVID-19 in May, said in an interview Friday that workers need “permanent residency, because we need to be able to defend ourselves and defend our rights and … be able to do something for our living and working conditions so that we can be healthy, be safe and work in decent conditions.”

Workers need a “comprehensive” solution now, he said, adding that more new programs and money won’t make a difference to workers if they don’t have the power to access them.

New measures announced Friday include $35-million for infrastructure improvements to living quarters, which also cover temporary emergency housing along with PPE and sanitary stations.

The government will also contribute $16-million to improve responses to allegations of employer non-compliance and strengthen inspections; the government will add “up to” 3,000 more inspections, which could potentially double the number of inspections this year. However, it didn’t say how many of these will be in person, or unannounced. And $6-million is slated for outreach to workers through migrant-worker support groups.

Despite some positive steps, such as acknowledging the need for pro-active enforcement of workplace and housing standards, “the changes announced today do not go nearly far enough,” said a statement by the Migrant Worker Health Expert Working Group.

Workers’ visas are still tied to their employers, which causes barriers in accessing safe working conditions, it said. “We encourage the federal government to address vulnerabilities workers face that arise from the conditions of their employment, specifically by instituting permanent residency on arrival and ending tied work permits.”

In B.C. Natalie Drolet, staff lawyer and executive director of the Migrant Workers Centre, said the government’s response is “too little, too late and is only a Band-Aid solution” that fails to address systemic problems such as their precarious work status.

In Ontario, Santiago Escobar, national representative at United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, said housing must be improved “as soon as possible,” and for these measures to work, migrant farm workers need stronger labour rights, so they can join a union, have collective agreements and better labour mobility.


Quebecers answer call to work on farms, but are they up to the task?

The productivity and cost benefits of foreign agricultural workers and the resulting dependence:

Melina Plante has found that, on her five-hectare fruit and vegetable farm south of Montreal by the U.S. border, one experienced Guatemalan farmhand can produce more than two Quebecers.

She and her husband, Francois D’Aoust, have hired the same four Guatemalan seasonal workers year after year. They typically clock up to 70 hours per week on the farm in Havelock, Que., and though the pay is relatively low, the workers value it.

But this year, Plante said, the farmhands are stuck in Guatemala due to travel restrictions their country has imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

They are among the roughly 5,000 seasonal and temporary workers that Quebec’s farmers’ union estimates will be missing on the province’s farms this year because of the pandemic, leaving Plante, D’Aoust and scores of other farmers with a tough choice: They can either reduce this year’s food production or take a chance on inexperienced but eager Quebecers thrown out of work by the pandemic.

In response to the foreign labour shortage, the provincial government on April 17 announced a $45-million program to pay an extra $100 a week above regular wages as an incentive to work on a farm. About 2,800 Quebecers have so far responded to Premier Francois Legault’s call.

But it is still unclear if there are enough unemployed Quebecers able and willing to do the work — and whether those who do will stick around if the economy picks up and their old jobs return.

Plante said bluntly that in the past, Quebecers have proven unreliable farmhands.

“That’s been our experience — and why we turned to foreign labour …. We estimate that one Guatemalan worker can be replaced by 2.5 Quebecers,” she said by phone from her farm.

The provincial program pays minimum wage, plus the $100 per week top-up and requires that applicants be available to work at least 25 hours per week. But Marcel Groleau, president of Union des producteurs agricoles, which represents about 42,000 Quebec farmers, says those kind of schedules simply won’t cut it.

“It will take farms — at a minimum — 40 hours per week, per employee, to replace the foreign labour,” he said in a recent interview.

The Canadian border remains open to seasonal farm workers, he explained, but many of them are having difficulty obtaining travel permits in their home countries.

“The pandemic made us realize how much we rely on foreign labour — but it’s been hard to attract local labour in the fields for many years now,” Groleau said.

Florence Lachapelle is hoping she’ll qualify for the extra $100 per week.

She had already agreed to work on Plante’s farm to help replace the Guatemalan farmhands before the province created the recruiting program. The 19-year-old visual arts student from Montreal met Plante and D’Aoust through family.

Lachapelle said she got involved in environmental activism at her junior college but since the pandemic doesn’t know what to do with her energy.

“I think the key to fighting climate change is through agricultural self-sufficiency and knowing how to work the earth in a respectful way,” she said in a recent interview. “I really want to learn how it works.”

And while people such as Lachapelle may be helping to fill a critical gap created by the pandemic, there are other fragile links in the agricultural supply chain exposed by the pandemic.

COVID-19 has highlighted the problems associated with industry concentration, particularly within the food-processing sector, Groleau said.

“There are fewer and fewer (processing plants), and the ones that are left are bigger and bigger,” he said. “When there is an issue at one of them, there are serious impacts for the rest of the supply chain.”

For example, the closure of a single meat packing plant in Alberta last week forced Canada to curtail beef exports to meet domestic demand. The Cargill-operated factory in Alberta has seen an outbreak linked to at least 484 cases of COVID-19s, including one death.

“We are not, at this point, anticipating shortages of beef,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier in the week, “but prices might go up.”

Aside from higher prices, Plante said she and other farmers in her network expect food shortages this fall. She and her husband have already estimated they will have to cut production this year by about a third.

Pascal Theriault, a lecturer at McGill University’s farm management and technology program and vice-president of Quebec’s order of agronomists, said he hopes this crisis forces Canadians to rethink their relationship with food.

“We worked on producing food at the lowest possible cost and that’s all that counted,” he said in a recent interview. But over the years, international supply chains controlled by a handful of big players have contributed to Canadians’ alienation from the food they eat.

“I think the crisis will build awareness to eat more locally,” he said. “It’s not that we weren’t doing it before, but now we are really paying attention to it.”

Buying local could mean higher grocery bills for Canadian consumers used to seeing stores stocked with imported produce grown with cheaper labour under fewer regulations.

Canadians spend about 10 per cent of their budgets on food — one of the lowest proportions in the world, Theriault said. So there is room to pay a little more for local products — but not that much more, he said.

Lachapelle started her new job Thursday. She’ll live in a trailer on Plante’s farm and keep mostly to herself for two weeks to ensure she is not carrying the virus. Then when she starts what she expects will be gruelling work in the fields, she will respect physical distancing guidelines.

“I am very hard-working,” she said. “I’m 19, and I think I am ready, physically and mentally. I know it’s going to be a challenge. But I think it’ll be will super fun!”

Source: Quebecers answer call to work on farms, but are they up to the task?

Alberta’s COVID-19 crisis is a migrant-worker crisis, too

More on temporary foreign and immigrant workers in relation to COVID-19 working conditions:

The 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death tied to an Albertan meat-packing plant are unquestionably tragic. The Cargill plant in High River, Alta., temporarily ceased operations last week following the most serious COVID-19 outbreak in Canada, with cases linked to that plant constituting about a quarter of all cases in the province.

But it must also be understood in its broader context, beyond this pandemic. While this tragedy seems unique to this crisis, this outbreak has only exposed Canada and Alberta’s dependence on temporary labour migration and immigrant workers, the particular vulnerabilities they face, and the deep inequities in Canada’s occupational health and safety system.

Media reports and accounts from community advocates have indicated that most of the workers at the meat-packing plant came here from abroad, including many as temporary foreign workers. This is in line with what the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently found, which is that workers who have been deemed “essential” are also disproportionately racialized. Immigrant workers earn less than the Canadian average and lack access to basic protections, including paid sick leave. These workers are systematically disadvantaged with respect to workplace safety, despite the rights due to them under the Employment Standards and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The current OHS system relies on the “internal responsibility system,” which means it is driven by complaints and thus requires that workers have to be the one to assert their rights to workplace safety. This system disadvantages low-wage and precarious immigrant workers who may be unable to exercise these rights, or fear reprisal for speaking out about unsafe work conditions. This is borne out in data which shows that, in their first five years in Canada, immigrant men are at increased risk of work-related injuries that require medical attention compared to their Canadian-born counterparts.

The crisis has also revealed the way public policy intersects with an unequal labour market to exacerbate those vulnerabilities that temporary workers in particular face. While policies around temporary foreign workers change depending on prevailing political sentiments and public attitudes, the fundamentals of the program remain largely unchanged: Workers are recruited for labour that Canadians are unwilling to do.

Much of it, including meat packing, is “3D work” – difficult, dangerous and dirty. Research published in 2014 found that in Alberta, meat-packing employees have the highest probability of a disabling injury of all manufacturing employees, at a rate that is more than double the manufacturing average.

Temporary workers enter Canada on a time-limited work permit that is tied to their employer. The program is divided by skill level: Those in “high-skill” occupations have greater access to Canadian permanent residence than “low-skill” workers, including meat packers. What few pathways exist are largely dependent on a referral from employers, making it less likely for those workers to push for their rights.

Temporary migrant workers in occupations classified as low-skilled are structurally disadvantaged when it comes to workplace health and safety. They pay taxes and contribute to the employment insurance program, but if they become sick or injured, they can be laid off and sent back to their home country without access to the Canadian benefit system. Research shows that temporary migrant workers hide illnesses and injury for fear of being fired, and we cannot rule out that this influenced the Cargill workers who continued to do their job despite being sick.

It is deeply unjust that workers deemed “essential” in this pandemic are the same workers who are unable to access pathways to Canadian citizenship and to equitable workplace health and safety. The temporary foreign worker program is meant to address short-term and geographically specific needs in the labour market, yet as advocates and researchers have noted for years, “temporary” migrant workers often work in jobs that are not temporary at all.

As evidence of the inequities in workplace safety, the last inspection at the Cargill plant happened over video rather than through an in-person inspection. This begs important questions about the actual safety afforded those working in the plant. Workers have disclosed to the media that their concerns over safety and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 went largely unheeded by management.

And yet, Alberta designated Cargill an essential service. That only ensured that one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world continued operations – while workers suffered the consequences.

Source: Alberta’s COVID-19 crisis is a migrant-worker crisis, too: Bronwyn Bragg

As Quebec cuts immigration, businesses turn to temporary foreign workers

Understandable effect:

As the Quebec government slashes immigration levels this year, it is also overseeing a huge increase in the number of temporary foreign workers coming to the province.

The inflow of temporary workers is helping Quebec deal with an increasingly dire labour shortage, but experts say the strategy is unsustainable economically and makes newcomers more vulnerable to exploitation.

Under the federal temporary foreign worker program, Quebec’s consent is required to bring a worker to the province.

The number of new Quebec employees hired through the program has jumped dramatically in recent months, and not just in the agricultural sector, but other sectors as well, such as tourism, food processing and manufacturing.

In 2018, 17,685 permits were issued to foreigners for temporary work in Quebec, a 36 per cent increase from the previous year, the biggest jump of any of the largest provinces.

The numbers are on track to rise again in 2019. In the first three months after the fall provincial election, the number of active permits rose by 32 per cent compared to the same period the year prior.

Permits were up 21 per cent in the first three months of 2019.

This increase comes despite plans by the Coalition Avenir Québec government to reduce the number of immigrants by 20 per cent this year.

That goal has drawn sharp criticism from business groups, who say they urgently need immigrants to help fill the 120,000 positions currently vacant in the province.

These groups warn the government that with Quebec’s aging population and low birth rate, the labour shortage will only get worse in the years ahead.

Province’s workforce is aging

Quebec’s Immigration Ministry said in a statement the objective of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is “to meet the urgent and specific needs of Quebec employers facing difficulties in recruiting local workers.”

Economists and business lobby groups, however, are skeptical about the program’s ability to meet the province’s long-term economic needs.

The higher number of temporary workers in the province is indeed helping offset the labour shortage, according to a recent analysis by Scotiabank.

But Marc Desormeaux, a provincial economist with the bank, said it doesn’t address the underlying structural crisis facing the Quebec economy: an aging workforce and shrinking labour pool.

“The question is whether the explosive recent pace of temporary foreign worker intake can be sustained over the longer run,” he said.

Denis Hamel, vice-president of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, a lobby group for employers in the province, likened the rise in temporary foreign workers to a “Band-Aid solution.”

It wasn’t addressing the labour shortage or the backlog in the immigration process, Hamel said.

“Employers have to look at the TFW program because they don’t have a choice. Delays are so long with the regular immigration path that if you want to fulfil a job in a six- to eight-month period you have to turn the TFW,” he said.

Process can take 6 months: lawyer

In order to hire a foreign worker, companies must demonstrate they would otherwise be unable to fill the position, a federally run process known as a Labour Market Impact Assessment.

Foreign workers must also obtain Quebec’s consent through what’s called a Quebec Acceptance Certificate.

Immigration lawyer Ho Sung Kim said the whole process can take up to six months and cost thousands of dollars, which can be prohibitive for a small business, such as a restaurant.

“But they do need people, and they are not able to find people locally, and that’s a big problem,” said Kim, who sits on the board of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association.

Moreover, those hoping to become permanent residents also have little recourse if they are mistreated, given their uncertain status.

“It’s not the ideal situation,” said Kim.

“Their stay is temporary and the renewal of the work permit is not always guaranteed and a lot of times they come with their family and want to settle down, and the pathway to permanent residency is less clear.”

The CAQ government is holding legislative hearings in Quebec City to discuss its immigration plan, which envisions a gradual return to the immigration levels hit in 2018, that is, somewhere around 50,000 newcomers.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said Tuesday the province is in talks with the federal government to make the Temporary Foreign Worker Program more flexible.

Business groups countered by saying the red tape involved with the program isn’t the only problem.

The Quebec Restaurant Association, for instance, called on the government to dramatically increase the number of immigrants to satisfy the needs of its members.

“Immigration is an undeniable tool that can alleviate the current labour shortage,” said Vincent Arsenault, head of the organization.

Source: As Quebec cuts immigration, businesses turn to temporary foreign workers

Douglas Todd: Dramatic jump in guest workers hurts Canadians on low wages

Not sure where Todd is getting the numbers to state his case. The largest part of the increase actually happened under the Conservatives, 2007-15: from 92,000 to 234,000 (IMP), with only Temporary Foreign Workers showing a decline following the reversal of their facilitating their entry in response to business pressures (from 78,000 in 2007, rising to a peak of 104,000 in 2013 before declining to 60,000 in 2015).

The bulk of the Temporary Foreign Workers increase under the Liberal government has been with respect to agriculture workers (a doubling to 52,000, 2016-18), not fast food workers.

And while there are linkages with international students, better to focus on IMP and Temporary Foreign Workers in this kind of analysis:

A big jump in the number of guest workers is hurting low-wage employees and others across Canada, according to economists.

The number of non-permanent foreign workers arriving in Canada each year has doubled in the past decade, escalating particularly after the federal Liberal government was elected in 2015.

Partly as a result of the increasing flow of guest workers, UBC economist David Green and Carleton University’s Christopher Worswick say in a paper that new immigrants are doing “worse and worse” in regards to earned incomes. And it’s Canada’s low-wage workers who are suffering the most.

Even though businesses frequently lobby politicians to allow more guest employees, Green says the latest hikes are putting downward pressure on wages and threatening respect for workers. They’re exacerbating the kind of scenario, he said, that lead to the rise of Donald Trump and Britain’s Brexit movement.

Saying it’s “truly dumb” for the federal government to continue boosting low-skilled guest workers in the country, Green emphasized the vast majority of Canadians don’t appear to be aware of the labour-market shift. “It’s totally under the radar.”

While temporary workers were initially billed as a way to rescue businesses that needed to make up short-term skill shortages in certain sectors, low-skill guest workers from overseas are now increasingly being brought in to staff fast-food restaurants, fill shelves at supermarkets and perform basic kitchen duties.

In the face of a 2013 backlash against the increased volume of foreign workers in Canada, former Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney drastically cut their numbers. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has jacked up the totals much higher.

The new river of guest workers in Canada “releases the pressure on firms to provide better jobs, jobs where you have control over your time, where the pay is decent. It lets the steam off. And that pushes us toward a society that doesn’t respect workers so much,” said Green, a professor in the Vancouver school of economics and a fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

It’s difficult for the public to recognize that guest worker numbers have grown at a much faster pace than more-often discussed immigration levels, which have expanded by 30 per cent since 2015, with about 320,000 now being approved annually.

The official temporary foreign worker program, which attracted such controversy in the Conservatives’ era, has not greatly expanded. But other guest-worker efforts have.

One jump has come through the doubling of international students. In 2015 about 200,000 foreign students were arriving each year. By last year the number arriving annually on study visas had ballooned to more than 400,000. Most foreign students are allowed to work 20 hours a week, plus full-time during their summer or other breaks.

The least-known migration policy change, however, has arguably been the biggest one for the labour market. That is the fourfold expansion of the so-called “international mobility” program, about which few Canadians have heard.

In 2005 about 70,000 guest workers arrived under the “international mobility” category. But by 2018 Canada was accepting more than 250,000 in this category, which is typically made up of people on two-year visas, many of whom find jobs in the service sector.

Informally known as travellers on “holiday worker” visas, such employees are often associated with young Australians working at ski resorts like Whistler, or with British globe trotters serving beer in pubs in Vancouver or Toronto.

A UBC-backed website called Superdiversity, which has created interactive graphics based on immigration department data, shows the largest group of the more than 250,000 “international mobility” workers who arrived in Canada last year were from India, followed by those from the U.S., China, France and South Korea. Toronto took in about 70,000 international mobility workers in 2018, while Vancouver absorbed 30,000.

In line with the research of American economist Giovanni Peri and the University of Ottawa’s Pierre Brochu, Green described how owners of a Tim Horton’s franchise, a café or a supermarket often try to justify bringing in more guest workers by saying they can’t find anyone to fill the low-skill slot.

“So they go to their local MP and say, ‘I’m in trouble here. I can’t get enough workers for my front counter.’ The real response to them should be, ‘Well, pay them more.’ But it’s not the answer they want to hear, because they want to make more profit,” Green said.

Economists don’t really think it’s a problem that a fast-food restaurant owner or other service sector employer can’t hire workers at low wages, said Green. “When something is scarce, the price for it goes up and people and companies adjust. That’s the whole wonder of the capitalist system.”

The low-wage problem is exacerbated in places like Metro Vancouver, where the cost of renting or owning homes is extreme. Instead of offering decent living wages to the people who live here, Green said many bosses are inclined to hire “people who live in housing with five other foreign workers.”

A second trouble with Canadian companies increasingly relying on low-wage guest workers, Green said, is it leads to a more fearful workforce, incapable of demanding adherence to local labour standards or of forming a union.

“Everyone knows these guest workers have no rights. If they lose their jobs they’re gone. They’re not about to complain. Canadian firms are now not only getting just lower-wage workers these days, they’re getting very compliant workers,” said Green.

Even though a lot of commentators write off the supporters of Trump and Brexit as just “stupid people,” Green said, many have been workers who have felt that the promise of globalization, the transnational movement of capital and labour, has not benefited them.

“These are people who feel there was a deal promised to them, where everyone would share in the benefits of deregulation and a more flexible labour market,” said Green.

“But then governments did things like bring in more temporary foreign workers and those people are feeling like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ If you want people to feel like they have a share, don’t bring in somebody to replace them every time their wages start looking like they’re going to go up.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Dramatic jump in guest workers hurts Canadians on low wages

StatsCan Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Spoiler alert – apart from Agricultural Workers program – is that the overall trend is temporary workers staying for longer periods with most temporary workers in Canada for 10 years or more transitioning from temporary to permanent residency status:

Temporary foreign workers are admitted to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program (Government of Canada) with the objectives of addressing short-term labour shortages and advancing Canada’s broad economic and cultural interests. The number of temporary foreign workers present in Canada increased from 52,000 in 1996 to 310,000 in 2015. Given the growing presence of temporary foreign workers, their rate and length of stay in Canada are relevant to national immigration and labour market policies.

This Statistics Canada study documents the length of time that temporary foreign workers remain in Canada and the extent to which longer durations of stays are the result of extended use of temporary residence permits or transitions to permanent resident status.

In the study, temporary foreign workers are defined as individuals who were aged 18 to 64 at the time of their arrival in Canada, who received a work permit between 1990 and 2009, and whose first admission to Canada was primarily for work purposes. These individuals were followed for at least five years, and for up to 15 years, after their first admission to Canada. The study is based on the Temporary Residents File.

Durations of stay among temporary foreign workers became longer through the 2000s. Of the 264,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999, 13% (or 35,000) were still in Canada five years after their initial arrival. This was the case for 37% (or 187,000) of the approximately 500,000 temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 2005 to 2009. The same pattern was evident 10 years after arrival among earlier cohorts. Specifically, 11% of temporary foreign workers first admitted to Canada from 1995 to 1999 and 18% of those first admitted from 2000 to 2004 were still in Canada 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada.

Almost 90% of temporary foreign workers who were still in Canada after 10 years had obtained permanent resident status, having made the transition from temporary foreign worker to landed immigrant. This was the case among temporary foreign workers in virtually all ongoing programs, with the exception of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. Temporary foreign workers in this program were unique in that almost one-quarter continued to receive work permits for seasonal employment 10 years after their initial arrival in Canada. Temporary foreign worker programs, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, have been associated with different options for transitioning to permanent residence status.

via The Daily — Study: How temporary were Canada’s temporary foreign workers?

Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers

Doing jobs most Canadians don’t want to do (currently reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle about the horrors or early 20th century meat packing plants in Chicago):

Doing his rounds on the floor of the meat processing plant, Tony Morreale points to the “empty holes” on the production line, where positions are unfilled because of the meat cutter shortage.

Outside Conestoga Meats, a huge hiring sign has become a fixture in front of the 115,000-square-foot facility located in this community near Kitchener. The plant processes more than 30,000 hogs a week, slaughtering the swine, derinding, deboning and slicing them into primo cuts for Canadian grocery chains and for export to China and Japan.

“The hiring sign has become part of the grass for me,” said Morreale, Conestoga’s vice-president of operations, zigzagging around the conveyor belts carrying carcasses to be cut by butchers wearing helmets, earmuffs, goggles and white robes.

“We just can’t find enough Canadians to do the job,” said Morreale, whose company has 950 employees, including 70 temporary foreign workers.

“The industry is such that we have difficulties attracting and retaining individuals,” said Morreale. “We have temporary foreign workers, but these are year-round jobs and we want them to stay permanently.”

Morreale and Canada’s $6 billion meat processing industry are just the latest to call on Ottawa to ease the access to permanent residency for their migrant workers. Earlier this fall, Canadian mushroom growers, who employ 4,330 people and generate $1 billion in sales a year, issued a similar plea.

Both industries have experienced perennial labour shortages because they are located primarily in rural Canada, which has been plagued by an aging population and outmigration of youth. Migrant workers have become a lifeline — a complement to the work force that keeps those operations running.

Those calls follow a recent Toronto Star series, The Hands that Pick Your Food, which found Canada has been increasing its reliance on migrant workers in the agri-food sector and that the lack of access to permanent residency can expose workers to abusive and exploitative working conditions.

The meat industry currently employs 66,330 people, and Ron Davidson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Meat Council, estimates some 2,000 of them are migrant workers. A recent survey of 15 of the country’s largest meat plants identified a shortage of 1,500 workers. The industry, mostly unionized, has the same pay scale for both foreign and Canadian workers, who earn between $14 and $18 an hour.

Davidson said meat-cutters, the majority of them unionized full-time positions, also have medical, dental and eye care coverage as well as retirement pensions.

But, he says, the labour gap persists

“Canadians don’t want to move to a rural environment and we can’t put a slaughterhouse in a city. It is arduous work and many Canadians don’t find it pleasant,” he said.

Even offering skills development programs haven’t worked. “We tried to put together a college diploma program to train Canadians, but we had to cancel for the lack of interest,” said Davidson. “Not everybody can do it. You need the skills to do the right cuts. You need food safety knowledge. It takes months of training.”

Raising wages is also not an option.

“There is no tariff and quota for the import of meat,” said Davidson. “We have to stay globally competitive or we are not going to have a domestic meat industry at all.”

Jennefer Griffith, executive director of the Food Processing Human Resources Council, said the temporary foreign worker program is just a band-aid fix to the meat industry’s labour gap and Ottawa must change its policy to bring in the so-called “low-skilled” blue-collar workers as permanent residents as a long-term solution.

“The meat industry is not a sexy industry,” said Griffith. “Because of the perception of the job and its physicality, Canadians just aren’t interested.”

Blanket changes made by the former Conservative government to restrict the migrant worker program have not made things easier for the sector, Griffith said.

In response to reports of employers in the IT and mining sectors using migrant workers to replace Canadians, the Harper government raised the application fee employers have to pay for migrant workers from $200 to $1,000 — and capped the proportion of foreign workers at up to 10 per cent of a company’s work force.

To make the situation worse, the Liberal government changed the immigration selection system and made it more difficult for butchers to become permanent residents.

Under the old system, butchers could qualify as long as they had a job offer in Canada and possessed minimum proficiency in English or French. Now, the job offer doesn’t give them an edge.

Mauritian retail butcher Michael Marjolin came to work at Conestoga in 2015 under the low-skilled foreign worker program and applied for permanent residency in early November.

Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.
Serhiy Levytskyy, left, and Michael Marjolin are working as retail butchers at Conestoga Meats, but uncertain of their future.  (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR)  

He scored 420 points under Canada’s Express Entry program for skilled workers because he got 100 bonus points from having French as his first language and have a brother in Canada. (His score is close enough to the 439 passing mark in the latest selection draw.)

“I love this job and I want to stay here and continue to work for Conestoga,” said the 36-year-old, who has nine years of experience in meat cutting.

His colleague Serhiy Levytskyy, came here from Ukraine in October 2016 after working as a retail butcher in Italy for nine years, just before the federal government removed the 600-point advantage he had had prior to the changes.

“I came because I would be able to become a permanent resident with the job offer,” said the 34-year-old, who can do all the cuts, but now specializes in the highly-skilled loin carving. “Now I’m screwed, because I will have to leave Canada if my work permit cannot be renewed. It’s a stressful situation.”

It is also a stressful situation for Canadian employers such as Alberta-based Sunterra Farms, which has 1,000 employees and processes 3,500 pigs a week.

Mark Chambers, Sunterra’s production manager, said the company has to submit a new labour market impact assessment application to renew the work permit of a migrant worker, which expires every year. The process is tedious and involves advertising the jobs to Canadians and filling out page after page of forms, he said.

“We would love to add another new plant if we could find the workers.

“The (permit) extension can be turned down and the decisions are arbitrary,” noted Chambers, who also co-chairs Canada’s Agriculture and Agri-food Labour Task Force. “That’s what’s preventing us from growing.”

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen would not comment for the story.

Pauline Zwiers, vice-president of human resources at Conestoga Meats, said the company has tried repeatedly to attract and retain Canadian workers: relocation assistance, busing in workers from urban centres, reaching out to newcomer communities for recruitment, expanding the human resources department to improve service and introducing leadership development training.

At one point, she said, Conestoga hired Canadian workers indiscriminately and the turnover rate hit 39 per cent. Now, their turnover rate stands at 25 per cent, compared to just 4 per cent among the foreign workers.

“The foreign workers are supplementing our workforce,” said Zwiers. “We need the stability to facilitate our growth. It’s not a temporary need. They are already here in Canada and deserve the opportunity to stay.”

via Why Canadian meat plants want permanent residency for migrant workers | Toronto Star

Leamington is at the frontlines of the boom in migrant workers. Here’s how it’s changed

Good profile on Leamington and its seasonal agricultural workers:

On Friday evening, in the heart of this farming city, the workers arrive by bicycle and private bus.

Hundreds of labourers crowd the sidewalks, restaurants and shops on this municipality 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor, famous for its greenhouses and tomatoes.

It’s payday and at almost every turn the old city core is alive with bodies and chatter.

But these farm labourers are speaking Spanish and Patois.

Like many of Ontario’s downtowns, Leamington’s has seen better days. But the thousands of low-wage temporary farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, the work they provide and the money they spend here — Mayor John Paterson figures $15 million a year — has transformed the local economy.

Where Theresa’s Fashion once was is now Chica Linda, catering to workers looking to buy clothes to send home to family. Across the road, Mr. 2 Pizzas is now Crazy Chicken, where the menu is available in Spanish and features a cartoon sombrero-wearing bird rocking maracas, its fridge stocked with bottles of Mexican Jarritos soft drinks. Gino’s Restaurant and Wine Bar next door is now La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant. Clubs offer salsa music and buckets of Corona and Caribbean vibe.

For the unfamiliar, it is jaw-dropping to behold. Yet transformation, like any change, can be simultaneously embraced, tolerated and loathed.

While these migrant workers and their effects on the community are particularly obvious in Leamington, the racial tension between them and the locals is far from unique in a rural Canada increasingly reliant on the labour provided by the migrant worker program.

This is the story of one migrant worker town and how people are learning to get along. Mostly.

Dubbed the “Greenhouse Capital of North America,” Leamington is located on the 42nd parallel — the same latitude as northern California — and draws its agricultural strength from the amount of sunshine it gets and the fertile soil it’s blessed with.

Everyday, some 200 tractor-trailers leave this municipality to deliver fresh produce — from its famous tomatoes to peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and flowers — to destinations around the world.

Initially called Gainesville, the community was built by immigrants: first, the Scottish, German and Dutch, followed in the postwar era by Italians, Portuguese and Lebanese.

A shortage of labour has always been an issue for Leamington, as far back as Paterson, 63, who was born and grew up here, can remember.

But what distinguishes the earlier waves of migrants from those coming now is that the former came as permanent residents, while the majority nowadays are guest workers — mostly lonely men separated from their families, with temporary status only.

Leamington has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.
Leamington has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.  (JIM RANKIN/TORONTO STAR)  

More than 10 per cent of the 54,000 average migrant farm workers to Canada work in Leamington, accounting for one-sixth of the town’s population during the farming season.

The number of migrant farm workers in Leamington has surged in the last decade, mostly because of the exponential growth of the greenhouse operations here. Today, the town has more than 1,500 acres of greenhouses, with another 200 acres waiting for municipal approvals.

South of Hwy. 401, along Hwy. 77 are row after row of greenhouses, with new ones under construction. With a $60 million gas line completed earlier this year, the town hopes to finish its $80 million hydro line next June, along with a $7 million water system and a $40 million sewage system in order to meet the needs of more greenhouses in the next five years. Medical cannabis production companies are knocking on its doors.

Everywhere you go, you see hiring signs for general labour, pickers and packing staff at greenhouses. The jobs promise a minimum 48 hours of work a week.

“We don’t have enough people in Ontario that are willing to do that kind of labour or those kind of hours for that kind of pay,” said Paterson.

“I don’t think the greenhouse industry would exist if it wasn’t for the farm worker program. There just wouldn’t be the manpower to make it happen. The program is of ultimate importance.”

Source: Leamington is at the frontlines of the boom in migrant workers. Here’s how it’s changed | Toronto Star