Editorial: On the evils of Temporary Foreign Workers

Trent Ernst, Editor

By the time you read this, you may know the results of the Court Case between the two unions and HD Mining (also named are Dehua and the Canadian Government). But as I write this, there is still a few hours left to go before the arguments are finished and then who knows how long until the final verdict is made. (They’re hoping by early May, but who knows how long it will actually take?)

But every once in a while, there’s a new story in my Feedly Newsfeed Reader (a wonderful replacement to Google Reader) that is equating what’s happening over at the RBC with what’s happening with HD. But the two are vastly different.

Let’s look at what RBC is doing. They are outsourcing. They are not using Temporary Foreign Workers. They are taking work that is already being done by employees at the bank, and finding an outside source to do it better/faster/cheaper. (Recently RBC announced that the 45 workers would be re-assigned, which is better than the alternative.)

In this case, they are employing a US company to do these jobs that Canadians were doing, which is not against the rules regarding temporary foreign workers. In fact, the bank no longer has any connection to those jobs other than paying iGate (the US company) to get the job done.

iGate, for their part, employs overseas workers, mostly from India, to get the work done. And while there are stories of foreigners coming to the bank to learn the jobs, they are not being hired by the bank under the TFW program. They are NOT temporary foreign workers. They are permanent workers who are going to be doing the jobs back in their own country.

Hold that image in your mind for a second: workers from India, coming to Canada to have Canadians teach them how to do the job so the Canadians can be removed from that position, then going back to India to do that job, permanently.

Now, let’s look at HD. They, unlike RBC, are bringing the workers in directly. Indeed, the workers who came over last year before getting sent back were already employees of HD with years of experience in longwall mining.

They’re coming to Canada for two years, and while they are here, they are going to be transferring their knowledge to Canadians.

I don’t know about you, but from where I stand, these two situations are quite different, which is why when I see a story conflating the two, I get a little punchy. The two are not the same, and it becomes a guilty by association argument. What RBC is doing is taking existing jobs away from people and farming said jobs out to an American Company who in turn are getting workers in India to do it.

Never mind that you hear the words “temporary foreign workers” on the news, read it in the paper, even see it in Maclean’s Magazine. That’s not what’s happening. There’s nothing temporary about these workers. But if the two become linked in the minds of Canadians, it becomes easier to demonize the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in general and HD Mining in specific.

Which is not to say that the Temporary Foreign Worker program is without stain or blemish. We’ve talked in the past about the TFWs in Fort Mac who were getting paid a fraction of what they were supposed to. We’ve talked about the Tim Hortons employees in Dawson Creek. Yes, there are a bunch of examples of Canadian employers taking advantage of the TFW program, or of the workers themselves.

But consider that there are about 338,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada at this very moment. How many complaints are there about Temporary Foreign Worker program? Dozens? Even hundreds? That is still less than a fraction of one percent of abuses of the program. While we need to do everything we can to make the number of abuses zero, and even one worker, Canadian or other, being mistreated by their employee is reprehensible, abuse of the TFW program is not “running rampant.”

Yes, there are issues that need to be addressed and yes, it needs a good solid looking at, but let’s keep the hysterics down to a dull roar.

Then there’s the numbers argument. There are, says another recent article, two unemployed Canadians for every job advertised, so there should be no need to bring in foreign workers.

But that’s a ridiculous argument. Tumbler Ridge has been a doctor short of a full clinic for years. And there are unemployed people in town. Why do we need to look to the big cities to find a physician, when we could just drop in an unemployed heavy duty machine operator instead?

Obviously, the heavy duty machine operator doesn’t have the right training, which is why arguing purely based on the numbers is just foolish. The discussion needs to be more nuanced than that.

But hey, this is journalism, and so things like nuance are tossed to the wind in favour of a salacious story.