Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders*
Have you been following the Temporary Foreign Workers boondoggle?

This story has been making headlines on and off for over a year now and blew up again last week.

Six other things related to this file happened this month.

  1. We were told that some employers prefer temporary foreign workers even though they are more expensive to employ because foreign workers have a better work ethic. For example:
    "They’re not going to take the day off because they have to take their dog to the vet. They’re going to show up to work on time, they're going to work a full week without disappearing," -- Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business
  2. We learned that some employers get around the temporary foreign worker regulations by hiring Irish youth through the International Experience Canada program.
    The International Experience Canada visa allows anyone aged 18-35 from 32 countries party to a bilateral youth exchange agreement with Canada to work in the country for up to two years without a Labour Market Opinion. Most participants come from Europe and Australia.

    Under most worker immigration streams, employers are required to first post the job in Canada for a reasonable length of time. They must then submit proof they have done so to Employment and Social Development Canada, which assesses the impact hiring that worker would have on the Canadian labour market. A positive labour market opinion, or LMO, is required for most foreign workers before Citizenship and Immigration Canada will issue a visa.

    The International Experience class is exempt from that requirement because it involves quotas based on reciprocal agreements with other countries.
  3.  We heard about a report by the C.D. Howe Institute that
    is harshly critical of the federal government’s controversial temporary foreign workers program, saying it has spurred a higher unemployment rate in western Canada.

    The study says changes to the program made between 2002 and 2013 made it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers and consequently contributed to a hike in the joblessness rate in Alberta and B.C.
  4. We learned that the Canadian government is changing the Expression of Interest program in a way similar to the changes they made to the Temporary Foreign Worker program. The updated program is called Express Entry and will offer "express entry" to qualified immigrants starting in 2015 as a way to help fill open jobs for which there are no available Canadian workers. This program, like the Job Grant Program, will allow employers to set policy.
    Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the program will allow "a swifter path to Canada that will select immigrants based on the skills and attributes that Canada needs based on those identified by government but also by employers" (emphasis mine).
  5. We learned that Statistics Canada collected data about skills and work that could not be analyzed or reported because of a funding shortage leaving some, us among them, to wonder what information the government can contribute when setting criteria for programs that fast track workers to skills deprived regions and sectors.
    A survey of 25,000 employers that cost $4.6-million and was commissioned by the federal government could shed light on the extent of the country's skills gap, but it has sat idle for two years due to lack of funding to make it public.

    In 2011, Employment and Social Development Canada – then known as HRSDC – contracted Statistics Canada to do a new survey of 25,000 employers on topics such as workplace demographics and future skills shortages. Firms were asked about whether they used temporary foreign workers, hired for any "green jobs," and which positions were toughest to fill and why.
    Statscan collected the surveys over the first three months of 2012, but the funding ended there, before the data could be analyzed. Business and education experts have been eager to see the results, but even as Employment Minister Jason Kenney has been giving speeches saying "we must do a much better job" collecting detailed labour market information to help steer Canada's economy in a better direction, budget resources to do so have shrunk.
    Which brings to mind the story from March about how the government of Canada  is reduced to using data from Kijiji to develop its job report because it is no longer collecting data of its own.
    “Kijiji’s a great place to sell a bike, but this is no way to run an economy,” said NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen after Question Period. 
    The reaction followed a Globe and Mail report that revealed a key factor as to why job-vacancy data released by Finance Canada this year on budget day has been out of sync with other sources.
  6. Statistics Canada was able to report on data that shows the gap between the earnings of a college or university degree graduate and what someone with a high school diploma makes is narrowing.
    According to the data agency, high school grads are making wage gains, while the earnings of holders of a post-secondary school degree are staying flat — and in the case of young men, even decreasing.
    This mirrors data from the US that shows that a degree only made a significant difference if it was from an Ivy League school pointing to the value of network over schoolwork.
So is this important to literacy workers and learners?

I think it is if you are doing literacy work or learning in a jurisdiction like ours (Ontario) where literacy is an employment program.

Literacy/employment programs often, either implicitly or explicitly, make the promise that education leads to more work, better work and better pay. Funders request and literacy workers pledge a return on investment that includes more people working more productively - and by productively they mean compliant to workplace norms and less dependent on the social safety net.

We have known for a long time that this is a difficult promise to keep in times of shrinking economies. Literacy programmers have no control over the availability of jobs or the forces of discrimination that exclude literacy learners from the labour market.

The above list of six shows some of the government policies that are also having impacts on the availability of paid work in general and, more specifically, who gets hired to do that paid work.

How can we make rational economic choices if the data upon which we are basing those choices is unreliable?

If employers view foreign trained workers as having a better work ethic, do literacy programs respond by supporting learners to emulate this work ethic or by challenging these employers on their definition of what is ethical at work?

What is a rational choice and what is an ethical response in these times? Are these employers acting in ways that are ethical or rational? How can literacy programs support workers and learners who want to act ethically and rationally?

Somewhere on the internet people were debating about whether it is ethical to ask people living in poverty to boycott companies renown for the poor treatment of workers (see Walmart) or sourcing consumer goods from places renown for the same (see Dollarama) if these are the only places they can afford to shop.

My response is that I don't shun people who shop at these places but I do not respect their choice. This is not just an ethical response. I do not think it is a rational economic choice for poor or middle income people to shop at places that work to depress wages and lower employment standards globally. The degradation of working conditions hurts the people who shop there the most.

I am still working on the question of how to support literacy workers and learners navigate this neo-liberal game of snakes and ladders. I think we should start working on a curriculum but that is probably just me.


McDonald's accused of favouring foreign workers (CBC)

Temporary foreign workers have better work ethic, some employers believe (CBC)

Ottawa doubles number of Irish workers allowed on two-year visas (Vancouver Sun)

Temporary foreign workers program has boosted joblessness, C.D. Howe report says (Toronto Star)

The "Are You on Hillary's Hit List?" Gabfest (Slate) - the section on the missing middle class at 19:55 and what "education" gets you good pay at 35:44
Not quoted here but relevant:
Tories' budget, Statscan at odds over number of vacant jobs (Globe and Mail)

*Snakes and Ladders of 1901 provides an old-fashioned moral view. Players slide down the snakes of anger, pride, depravity and vanity while they climb the ladders of forgiveness, penitence, pity and faith.

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