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Canada's Economic Action Plan: Replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers

You may have seen the ads, they air everyday. They tout the government's steady hand on the economy and the creation of new jobs. However, putting successful PR aside, recent job numbers state a dip of 50K jobs and an explosive report finds that common Canadian jobs are being given to temporary foreign workers for lower wages.

The explosive headlines started when a recent CBC investigation found that 45 Canadian employees at RBC will be replaced with temporary foreign workers from India hired by Indian multinational outsourcing firm iGATE. It turns out, RBC was just a drop in the bucket as other companies like Subway, Tim Hortons, Dairy Queen, McDonalds, A&W, and thousands of others, got government approval to use the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to hire employees at lower wages. The full list can be seen in the document released to the Alberta Federation of Labour and CBC through an Access to Information request.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program was designed to deal with labour shortages and match unfilled jobs which are seasonal, regional or meant for high-skilled workers, with foreigners with the specifications to take these jobs. However, this list includes many jobs in the service sector, jobs which don't fit with the purpose of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program as no special skills from outside Canada are required.

In 2012, 338,000 foreign workers took jobs as per the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion Process, up from 240,000 in 2008, which accelerates the approval of outsourcing jobs to foreign workers. The question now lies on whether these rules should be tighter and whether companies have been abusing the program to hire workers at cheaper wages. Add recent EI changes which bring punishing changes to Canadians who are out of work and we have an issue. Over 1.4 million Canadians are currently unemployed, the job market is stagnate and companies that are hiring, are using the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to dodge Canadian-standard salaries. At the same time, salaries are stagnating as the cost of living continues to incline.

On CBC's Power and Politics, Parliamentary Secretary to the Human Resources Minister, Kellie Leitch, said the program could be used to hire managers. She also said that it was important that companies follow the rules and that Canadians get a first cut at available jobs. She went on to note a "huge" labour shortage in Alberta. Look at Tim Hortons, look at McDonalds, and the many pizza joints and service-sector jobs that appear in this list and one must wonder what kind of jobs could be so advanced in these restaurants that no Canadian can possibly take them. What Canadian can't be a manager of any of these restaurants?

Further into the program, a defensive Leitch admitted that RBC was an example of how the program wasn't working, responding to host Evan Soloman's question with "Thats absolutely correct."

Meanwhile, University of Toronto Professor Audrey Macklin, who specializes in immigration law, contradicts what Leitch has said, claiming the Harper government has pro-actively encouraged the use of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. 

"The Canadian government has been aggressively encouraging employers to use temporary foreign workers," said Macklin. "In effect, the government of Canada subsidizes employers to the tune of five to 15 per cent of labour costs on the backs of temporary foreign workers and at the expense of Canadians." 

She added that companies will turn to external suppliers, like iGATE in RBC's case, to find and hire these temporary foreign workers.

Spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister, Alyson Queen, said the government will look into the way the program has been used.

"An investigation is under way and HRSDC officials are currently reviewing the labour market opinions submitted by iGate in great detail, based on apparent discrepancies between RBC’s public statement and information which has previously been provided to the government."

These issues are clearly not new, seeing as how these hirings have been taking place over the past years, along with PR for "Canada's Economic Action Plan". The Harper government reformed EI to try to force unemployed Canadians to move out west, these changes feature restrictions on eligibility and force Canadians to accept jobs with lower pay if they are laid off. On top of this, some mothers who have left for maternity leave will soon find that if they were laid off, they won't be eligible to EI benefits. 

So what do you think of the list of thousands of companies who claimed they couldn't find Canadian workers to fill their jobs? Did they abuse the system? Is the Harper government responsible for this controversy and can we trust that they will put Canadian workers first? Join the discussion and let us know what you think: FacebookTwitterGoogle+. 

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