Ponder the following questions:
Why haven’t we seen a drop in unemployment rates for certain groups of job-seekers – recent graduates, new immigrants, aboriginals, the unemployed?
Why aren’t wages increasing, even in high demand occupations?
Why don’t people move from one part of the country to another for a job?
The answer to all of these questions, at least in part, can be found in Canada’s increased reliance on temporary foreign workers. This is especially the case when it comes to workers in lower-wage jobs.
Over 330,000 foreign workers were admitted to Canada in 2011 and this is more than double the number that were admitted just six years ago. The majority of these foreign workers filled low-wage positions.
Consider that more than 20% of net new jobs created in Canada since 2007 have gone to temporary foreign workers, while during the same period the jobless rate for low-skilled workers went from 8.3% to 10.5%. What’s more, it’s hard to argue with the program’s many critics who claim that foreign workers depress wages.
So why does the government persist with bringing in ever-larger numbers of workers from abroad? The knee-jerk response is that the Conservatives lie down with big business and the latter prefers its workforce to be vulnerable and compliant. Maybe that’s the case, but I suspect there is more at play here.
The vast majority of voters are unhappy, to say the least, with the idea of foreign workers competing with locals for Canadian jobs. The decision-makers in Ottawa are anything but dumb and are acutely aware of voters’ feelings. Turning off the tap on foreign workers is simple enough, but then what? Do we let workers’ wages rise to the point where the people in Canada agree to be hired?
What happens, for example, to the price of a cup of coffee at Tim Horton’s when we replace the low salaries of foreign worker counter attendants with the higher salaries demanded by Canadian workers? Voters having to pay more in their everyday lives are voters who look for a change. This is not lost on the powers-that-be.