Coalition members Marjorie Griffin Cohen and David Fairey wrote a piece for The Tyee this week about the impact of rollbacks affecting workers’ rights since 2001. In Why BC’s Lower-wage Workers are Struggling, they highlight some of the most critical changes to the BC Employment Standards Act affecting employee rights and protections, along with curtailment enforcement of the Act. They also note that BC has Canada’s largest income gap, highest cost of living, highest poverty rate, and the youngest children’s working age in the industrialized world.
Amidst widespread discussion about an apparent shortage of skilled labour in Canada, this article from the Huffington Post suggests that the purported labour shortage may not in fact be so prevalent. It highlights a recent report from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada titled Imbalances Between Labour Demand and Supply, 2011-2020. This report concludes that there is not presently a general labour shortage in Canada, and a general labour shortage does not appear to be imminent despite the country’s aging workforce. Imbalances are, however, expected in particular regions and some high-skill industries.
Within this context, the article underscores that federal programs to hire underpaid, precariously employed “foreign” workers on temporary contracts does not appear to be justified on the basis of a general labour shortage.
According to this recent publication from the Alberta Federation of Labour, recent scandals involving “guest” workers at the Royal Bank of Canada and HD mining “are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Through an Access to Information Request, the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained a list of all Temporary Foreign Worker applications that were rubberstamped in the first eight months of the new federal Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) process. The document suggests that abuse of the ALMO process is even more widespread than what might have been expected. Although guest-worker permits were intended to be reserved for highly-skilled employment positions, a large number of the guest-worker permits were granted to fast-food restaurants, and there appeared to be minimal review of the applications.
As Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan noted, “Workers who want to come to Canada should enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Canadian residents. We shouldn’t be paying them 15 per cent less than Canadians, and the government shouldn’t be whisking them in through an accelerated and duplicitous process.”
Weighing in on the filming of a federal raid on “undocumented” construction workers by the reality TV show Border Security, Coalition members Gil Aguilar and Gerardo Otero ask us to question to the broader issue of racial segregation in Canada’s workforce. Their op-ed, “Does Canada have unfree workers?” was recently published by both the Georgia Straight and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Two of of our Coalition members, Anelyse Weiler and Dr. Gerardo Otero, co-wrote an op-ed that was published in today’s Vancouver Sun. This issue is particularly pertinent in light of the Canadian Border Services Agency raids on construction workers in Vancouver this week.
The op-ed focuses on the need to enforce existing labour safety and health standards for precariously employed migrant workers in BC, and also on the need to provide opportunities for permanent citizenship for all “guest” workers. Citizenship certainly wouldn’t resolve all issues of inequality and labour safety for migrant workers. Nonetheless, it’s a practical step that would go a long way toward reducing the systemic exploitation of this group of workers, who contribute tremendously to our collective well-being (and pay taxes).
BC’s spring election is an opportunity to let provincial decision makers know that you want to see basic labour rights for all workers strongly integrated into our employment system. The BC Employment Standards Coalition just released a comprehensive set of proposals, including model legislation, to promote rights and protections for the province’s migrant workers. Please help us share these proposals with your MLA, and let decision makers know how the provincial government can help reverse a trend that would exacerbate economic inequality in Canada as a whole.