In recent years the presence of foreign workers in Canada has grown due to the expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Without public discourse and with little public scrutiny, Canada has taken steps to become a nation of guest-workers. In 2002, there were just over 100,000 foreign workers here. Within one decade that number has tripled to 300,000. In 2006 we accepted more foreign workers into the country than immigrants. This workforce doesn’t enjoy the same set of rights and privileges Canadian workers do. They are brought into the country on short-term contracts, restricted to a single employer, and only protected on paper by provincial employer standards.
Who are these workers?
They work in industries as varied as farms, mining, food processing, construction and restaurant services. The one thing their jobs have in common – wages and working conditions most Canadians reject. Oftentimes migrant workers do jobs labelled '3-D': dirty, difficult and dangerous. They come from countries across the world: China, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Jamaica. Canada has become a labour recruiter in the global sweatshop. Many don’t speak English which makes them an isolated population. There are few pathways to citizenship for these workers. They are designated as permanent guest-workers. The label 'temporary' is in itself an abstraction. Some 'temporary' migrant workers have been coming to Canada for twenty years for 8-month contracts. They are in essence 'permanently temporary'.
Recently the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been the target of controversy in mainstream news because of reports that employers have laid off Canadian workers in order to bring in foreign workers at a cheaper rate. Canadians are outraged at the idea of cheap foreign workers replacing Canadian workers. The public condemnation was so widespread that the federal government took immediate action. They rescinded a controversial piece of legislation that allowed employers to pay foreign workers 15% less than Canadian workers. The federal government has also announced new rules to make it harder to employers to bring in foreign workers. These changes to the program address the concerns of Canadian citizens for the rights of Canadian workers. But the national conversation has yet to turn to the conditions and treatment of foreign workers.