Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No to Harper's Low Wage Agenda!: Abolish the Temporary Foreign Worker Program!

- Peggy Askin - May 28, 2014

Evidence continues to mount that the claim of a labour shortage used to justify the Harper dictatorship's labour trafficking through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is completely bogus.

The report of the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that the Harper government's claims about a growing labour shortage have no basis in fact. Recently Auditor General Mike Ferguson confirmed that the federal government was using unreliable statistics to support its claim that Canada had plenty of jobs but no workers with the skills to fill them.

This conclusion has been supported by economists at the TD and BMO bank and the Conference Board of Canada who have weighted in publicly and who point out that the number of job vacancies is decreasing, not increasing. Even the Fraser Institute, known for its anti-social, anti-worker propaganda, has acknowledged that the TFWP is driving down wages.

The Harper government was forced to stop using Kijiji data when it was exposed by the Parlimentary Budget Officer that its numbers depended on such completely unreliable sources. The Globe and Mailcalculated that with the Kijiji job postings removed, Canada's job vacancy rate plummeted from the 4 per cent Finance Canada touted in the March budget, to just 1.5 per cent.

Now Jason Kenney, Minister of Unemployment and Anti-Social Wrecking is trying to weasel out of this situation by claiming that the Canada Job Bank database is a reliable source of information about unfilled jobs and a labour shortage. He responded to questions in parliament by stating, "the job bank is a useful platform to connect unemployed Canadians to available jobs."

This claim has been shot down in flames just like the Kijiji data. Investigation by news media confirm that jobs remain in the data base many months after they were filled. Workers point out that they receive no response when they apply for job postings, and applications submitted through a media-sponsored email address confirmed this fact.

None of this is surprising. According to Kenney's own admission, the Canada Job Bank database relies on employers to update the information and remove jobs that have been filled or for which they are not recruiting. But employers have no stake in maintaining an accurate database. In order to apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) to hire a worker through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, employers are only required to tell the government that after posting positions on the job bank they were unable to find a qualified Canadian. As an Air Transat pilot, outspoken in his criticism of the way the TFWP is being used in the aviation sector, said, "It's my opinion that many of the aviation jobs posted on the job bank are just there to fulfill the requirement that jobs must be posted there before an LMO is applied for."

How would Jason Kenney know if data from the Canada Job Bank is any more reliable than Kijiji? This is not a frivolous question. The fact that the job bank provides no useful information on the number of unfilled jobs in Canada is not a mere technical problem. The Harper dictatorship is wrecking the public authority and politicized private monopoly interests who are motivated by their own narrow greed and desire to grow their capital, not by upholding the public interest. Disinformation about a labour shortage serves the interests of owners of capital.

It has destroyed the national long-form census, and carries out ongoing wrecking of Statistics Canada, attacks the Parliamentary Budget Office and then claims it know what is going on in the Canadian economy through Kijiji or information provided by employers through the Canada Job Bank. Whatever works to serve the demands of the monopolies is the watchword of the Harperites. As for nation-building and defending the public interest, these are considered outdated and irrelevant.

Consider Kenney's response to a question in parliament about TFWs working in the Windsor area, where unemployment is at 9 per cent, one of the highest rates in Canada. According to Kenney, members of parliament should defer to the monopolies who have the right to decide.

"Mr. Speaker, in fact, contrary to what the member just said, we do have a very good idea of what sectors those workers are working in. I have in front of me the report on labour market opinions issued for temporary foreign workers in the Windsor area, and the overwhelming majority of these LMOs were issued for industrial instrument technicians and mechanics for less than six months. These would typically be people who are installing equipment, equipment that is purchased from perhaps the United States. They come up here to either repair or install equipment.

"If she would bother to speak to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, they would tell her that without these repair people, the equipment in the factories would stop producing and all the jobs would be lost."

According to Maclean's magazine, the report tabled by Kenney including information only on the 641 LMOs issued for manufacturing over a 40 month period. There were 1551 TFWs working in the Windsor area on December 1, 2012 and it is well known that the program has expanded since that time.Maclean's estimated that the report provided information on 20 - 30 per cent of all TFWs ion the Windsor area. It contains no information on whether there are workers in Windsor who can fill these jobs much less why these companies are not required to train Canadian citizens or residents for these jobs.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is part of Harper's anti-social agenda putting downward pressure on workers' wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions. It creates a sector of vulnerable temporary foreign workers trafficked from around the world in order to attack the rights of all. This program and the anti-worker government sponsoring it both have to go!

(With files from the Toronto Star, Macleans Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Press, and Hansard)