Two different scandals involving the Temporary Foreign Worker Visas (TFWV) Program recently emerged in the Canadian media. In one case, Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Saskatchewan fired its permanent Canadian staff and replaced them all with workers on the TFWV program (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/waitresses-in-saskatchewan-lose-jobs-to-foreign-workers-1.2615157). As well, three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria have been accused of abusing the TFWV program by firing all of its Canadian workers and hiring non-Canadians in their place (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mcdonald-s-accused-of-favouring-foreign-workers-1.2598684). While these two cases have had much attention, the exploitation of migrant workers and working class Canadians is far more widespread.
It is very important that we understand the exploitation involved and, above all, that we appreciate who is responsible. For there is a great risk of racism and the direction of Canadian public wrath towards migrant workers. There is much fear and a great deal of legitimate anger, but it should be directed towards specific employers, the municipal, provincial and federal governments, and above all the economic elites that establish the regulatory frameworks that make exploitation possible, and not either laterally or down towards those who are even more vulnerable. After all, responsibility obviously belongs with those who exercise decision-making power. TFVW workers do not.
If we wish to understand why Canadians are not getting work, here are some simple questions. The answers show where anger properly belongs.
First, who does the hiring and firing? Employees never hire or fire themselves, so they are neither responsible for their own hiring nor for the unemployment of others. This means that it is wrong to blame other job seekers, since they lack decision-making power. If we blame migrant workers, refugees, immigrants, or other ‘foreigners,’ we participate in a racist attack on the more vulnerable.
Second, we need to ask who establishes the regulatory frameworks, laws and policies that make it attractive for employers to prefer one group of people over another? After all, only the most powerful have the lobbying clout to shift government policies in this way. In Canada, a 2012 federal government decision made it legal for businesses to pay migrant workers %15 less than the minimum wage, and imposed a range of other conditions which make it attractive for businesses to hire them. This created legal and economic incentives that favor the hiring of migrant workers while reducing their benefits and thus making their lives worse. Simultaneously it marginalizes economically unstable Canadians by creating disincentives to hiring them. These policies are designed to exploit vulnerable populations by playing them off against one another. The events in Victoria and Weyburn are small examples of a much larger pattern of exploitation that severely damages the conditions of life of both Canadians and migrant workers. None of them benefit from this legislation and practice. Their lives are all made worse, and its origin is in neoliberal labour practices, trade agreements and legislation. Direct the anger where it belongs, and do it effectively. This suffering originates in the choices of privileged economic elites. They are responsible. Don’t allow a divide and conquer strategy to create anger and violence between two different marginalized populations.