Temporary Foreign Worker Program has ballooned under Trudeau suppressing wages. Govt wants to make it even easier to bring in low-paid workers.

By Rohana Rezel

The number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) brought into Canada has increased by a staggering 70% under Justin Trudeau’s term in office as Prime Minister. This increase in the number of easily exploitable imported indentured labour has contributed to the suppression of wages in Canada. The loosening of restrictions announced by the government on Monday to make it even easier for big businesses to hire even more foreign workers for longer should send shockwaves down the spines of Canadian workers.

At the end of 2015, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives handed the reins of power to the Liberals, there were 323,980 TFWs in Canada, according to the data published on the federal government’s open data portal. By the end of 2021, that number had ballooned to 549,560. [1]Temporary Residents: Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and International Mobility Program (IMP) Work Permit Holders – Monthly IRCC Updates (Record ID: 360024f2-17e9-4558-bfc1-3616485d65b9)

That number would have been even higher had it not been for the various travel restrictions that were put in place in response to Covid-19. But even during the pandemic, the Trudeau’s government made numerous exemptions to health protocols to ensure a smooth ride into Canada for migrant workers.

Canada’s workers are not enjoying the same wage growth that their US counterparts are enjoying [2]https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf. Wages in Canada only grew by 3.1%, even as inflation raged at 5.7%. In other words, Canadian workers’ real wages were already falling at an alarming rate, when the government announced the loosening of Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) restrictions [3]https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220311/dq220311a-eng.htm.

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, announced the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program Workforce “Solutions Road Map,” with five key changes that are bound to accelerate the race to the bottom.

Effective immediately:

  • There will no longer be a limit to the number of low-wage positions that employers in seasonal industries, such as fish and seafood processing, can fill through the TFW Program.
  • Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) will be valid for 18 months, an increase from 9 months. (Prior to COVID-19, LMIAs were valid for 6 months).
  • The maximum duration of employment for High-Wage and Global Talent Streams workers will be extended from two years to three years. 

Effective April 30:

  • In sectors such as accommodation and food Services, employers will be allowed to hire up to 30% of their workforce through the TFW Program for low-wage positions for one year.  All other employers will be allowed to hire up to 20% of their workforce through the TFW Program for low-wage positions until further notice, an increase from the former 10% cap for many employers.
  • The Government will end the current policy that automatically refuses LMIA applications for low-wage occupations in the Accommodation and Food Services and Retail Trade sectors in regions with an unemployment rate of 6% or higher.

The federal government justifies the relaxation of foreign workers rules by claiming there are “labour shortages” in Canada. If employers are having trouble finding food service and accommodation workers in places like Vancouver and Toronto, it’s because high rents make it well-nigh impossible to survive on minimum wage. The median rent for a one bedroom apartment in Vancouver is now $1,500 per month, according to the most recent CMHC rental market report[4]CMHC RENTAL MARKET REPORT – DATE RELEASED – FEBRUARY 2022 https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/housing-markets-data-and-research/market-reports/rental-market-reports-major-centres. Based on CMHC’s criteria for affordability of no more than 30% of one’s income being spent on housing, a worker would need to earn $30 an hour to afford a typical apartment in Vancouver. The minimum wage in BC is only $15.65 an hour.

The changes announced by the government will allow employers to hire workers from poorer countries who are willing to live and work under inhumane conditions for lower pay. Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program is an indentured worker program, and there have been a litany of cases of workers being abused by their employers. Many workers are forced to live in overpriced rentals provided by the employers and often denied time off and overtime.

When Jason Kenney, who served as the Labour Minister in Harper government, loosened restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program, it lead to a large number of Canadian losing their jobs[5]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mcdonald-s-accused-of-favouring-foreign-workers-1.2598684

The Harper government denied TFWP was being used to drive down wages in the food and accommodation sector until I gathered data and published a map showing the vast scale of the program[6]https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/map-of-temporary-foreign-workers-in-b-c-alberta-goes-viral-1.2635825. My research led to a public outcry that forced Kenney to tighten restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program.

What Justin Trudeau’s government announced today is nothing short of a complete rollback of our hard fought victory. The Liberals are simply appeasing the big anti-union businesses to fatten their profits by allowing them to suppress Canadian wages and exploit migrant workers 

In 2014, we stood up to Harper and Kenney to protect both Canadian workers and migrant workers from the extraordinarily exploiting Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Canadian We must once again unite and fight hard against the Trudeau government’s abject betrayal of Canadian workers. The sole reason the Prime Minister is pushing is brazenly suppressing our wages because he assumes Canadian workers are docile doormats. Let’s make it abundantly clear that if Trudeau threatens our jobs, he will not be allowed to keep his either.

Contact the Author

You can reach Rohana Rezel at [email protected] You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Github.

References   [ + ]

1. Temporary Residents: Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and International Mobility Program (IMP) Work Permit Holders – Monthly IRCC Updates (Record ID: 360024f2-17e9-4558-bfc1-3616485d65b9)
2. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
3. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220311/dq220311a-eng.htm
4. CMHC RENTAL MARKET REPORT – DATE RELEASED – FEBRUARY 2022 https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/housing-markets-data-and-research/market-reports/rental-market-reports-major-centres
5. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mcdonald-s-accused-of-favouring-foreign-workers-1.2598684
6. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/map-of-temporary-foreign-workers-in-b-c-alberta-goes-viral-1.2635825