I think after what happened in that factory in Bangladesh (there are now more than 1,100 dead), we are all taking a look at the way our consumption choices directly affect those who make that consumption possible. And for the first time in the history of Canada, those exiting the workforce will outnumber those entering it. So we are obviously going to have to rely on countries with larger populations to meet our ravenous consumer needs.
That’s a problem. Obviously. Historically we have relied on increasing immigration for skilled workers as the solution to that problem – and we have never been consuming as ravenously as now.
Increasing immigration for skilled workers worked. As a bonus, it also added to the unique cultural fabric that our fine country is woven from.
The Harper government has found us a new solution though.
Skilled workers have seen a drop in VISAs granted to them by 20%. The number of refugees permitted permanent residency has seen a drop of 25%.
So whose been picking our fruit?
Temporary foreign workers. 30% more of them. Workers and people that have little rights living in Canada. Doing our dirty work. Thanks again Harper for lowering the Canadian standard.
TFWs (temporary foreign workers) are not usually temporary as the name suggests. They often come for eight months out of the year and repeat the trek four months later. They are here two-thirds of their lives. Sounds as if they are living in Canada to me.
Two-thirds of their lives in a country they have little rights in – without their families. In fact, family class immigration has declined by 15%. Quotas for spouses and children are down by 4,000 a year. There’s a moratorium on bringing your parents or grandparents over. And that’s for immigrants. Forget brining any of your family with you if you’re a TFW. That’s part of the criteria. They want workers who are leaving families back home that they will spend every day longing for. That way they know they’ll be easy to ship home at the end of the contract.
But where does that leave us? With the multicultural fabric that our society is woven from severely frayed. Complaints about TFWs usually involve drinking and other bachelor behaviour. I don’t know about you but I might be looking for the bottom of the bucket if I wasn’t able to go home to my family at the end of the day… for eight months of the year.
Shortages are often more about poor wages and working conditions than about any real worker shortage. Plugging the most desperate and vulnerable people into these jobs, jobs that are also incidentally the most dangerous, is not the answer to a sector that needs restructuring.
Workers are tied to at times abusive bosses. They are forced to hide sickness and injury. We simply don’t deal with their problems. We send them home. In fact, BC is the only province that restricts TFW from accessing basic medical care. Citizens can change jobs and apply for MSP… unlike temporary foreign workers. A frightening parody to modern day slavery if there ever was one.
They often work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week with no overtime pay. They are untrained and health and safety measures are bypassed.
There is no mandatory monitoring process for the program. You check yes or no on the application, and that check mark matters little in the decision process.
Ironically, they pay fully into services for social protection but as of recent, are ineligible for even the most basic benefits like EI, parental, maternal and compassionate benefits.
As a recap: desperate people with little training and no medical care are working the farms where your food comes from. They get hit with pesticides and loose an eye, they get sent home half-sighted.
Purewal, a blueberry farm that is part of the TFW program, seems particularly heartless. Their records include a death, numerous injuries and countless violations.
In 2005, they were found housing 50 people with hardly enough water for two people to shower at the same time, no heat, 6 beds to a room, 1 washing machine, no dryer or clothes line, no indoor cooking facilities and only one working toilet.
Live in nannies have it not much better. Even with the bump in minimum wage to $10/hr, they often get paid for 40 hours but work around the clock. They too are easily trapped in abusive situations as their work contracts are also tied into specific bosses. If they speak up, they go home. Live in nannies have the special carrot that is a chance at citizenship after working two years and stating four. But even those carrots are disintegrating under Harper. There are 50% less residencies available in the live in nanny program.
It has always seemed odd to me that Filipino mothers leave their children to raise Canadian kids, while the moms of those kids go to work. Surely, there must be a better way. I am sure this works great for some families… but I can imagine that given the conditions this is not always the ideal situations for families or their nannies. It is, at it’s core, a system that opens itself up to the potential for abuse and mistreatment to go unchecked.
I hate to end it like this. I do. But there is no one answer here. I do know that it must start with a bit of human decency. And we can go from there.