Immigration streams exploited by low-wage employers: AFL

Union says Ottawa should close immigration 'streams that are used by low-wage employers to suppress wages'

Immigration streams exploited by low-wage employers: AFL

A union is calling on the federal government to close some streams under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) which, they claim, is being exploited by low-wage employers.

Specifically, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is referring to the Recognized Employer Pilot (REP) under TFW program.

“The issue the [AFL] continues to have with the TFWP is that it allows employers to forgo wage increases in the face of so-called labour shortages. Median wages in many of the occupations listed in the Recognized Employer Program are below what would be a living wage in most Canadian communities,” said the group in its report titled End Low-Wage Employers’ Addiction to Guest Workers.

Ottawa launched the REP in August 2023 to “essentially fast-track approval of  Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) approvals. This equates to the “loosening of the TFWP rules,” said AFL.

Surge in non-permanent resident numbers

But even before that, temporary foreign workers in Canada shifted to working in low-paying jobs in the country in the previous decade, according to a previous report from Statistics Canada (StatCan).

In the third quarter of 2021, there were 1,305,206 non-permanent residents in Canada, AFL noted in the report, citing data from StatCan. By the fourth quarter of 2023, the number went up to 2,511,437, it said.

Also, LMIA approval in 2023 was at about 97.5%, nearly similar to the percentage for 2022 (about 97%), AFL noted in the report, citing data from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Comparable data for 2015 was just over 70%.

“Low-wage employers have become addicted to Canada’s guest work programs,” said Gil McGowan, AFL president. “And the federal government has been feeding that addiction. The numbers were bad under the Harper government, but they’re even worse under the current government. It needs to stop.”

“When low-wage employers use guest workers, it suppresses wages in that workplace and across entire sectors. That’s not an opinion, it’s an established fact. Often wages are so low that Canadians or landed immigrants won’t accept the jobs, which fuels calls from employers for more guest workers. It’s a vicious cycle.”

‘End the low-wage immigration stream’

The federal government must step up, said McGowan.

“It’s time for the federal government to cut off the supply to the addicts and make employers who have built their business models around exploiting low-wage guest workers go cold turkey. 

“Ending the low-wage stream of the TFWP will be good for Canadian workers. But that’s not all: even though they won’t admit it now, it will also be good for employers because it will force them to do things that are in their long-term best interests – like making investments to improve their productivity and paying wages that will reduce employee turnover.”

The end of the low-wage stream of the TFWP should also be accompanied by a one-time policy of granting permanent residency to all guest workers who are already here and “regularization” for undocumented workers, according to AFL.

New Canadian permanent residents’ income has improved in comparison to the general population, according to a previous report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

 

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