Temporary workers, permanent problems
What to do about jobless Canadians and squeezed
Author – John Murney – Contributor
The topic of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW’s) is a very hot one in Saskatchewan these days. There are impassioned opinions on all sides of this issue. I’ve been reluctant to wade into this controversy, but I feel that its time I spoke up on this important matter.
I have mixed feelings about the program. I am in favour of it, because it helps meet the growing labour shortage in our province, and the labour shortage that is soon to exist in all occupations across this country, due to demographics. Canada’s fertility rate has been below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman since 1971, Saskatchewan included. This fact has now caught up with us in terms of the makeup of the workforce. We now see ‘Baby Boomers’ who were born from 1946 to 1964 retiring in increasing numbers every month, but we simply don’t have enough young people entering the workforce to replace them. If we are serious about alleviating the labour shortage, TFWs are a band-aid solution and not a long-term one. In order to ensure the future viability of our workforce in Saskatchewan for decades to come, we need more immigrants to come to Canada and to make their lives here. TFWs simply don’t make a lasting contribution to our economy, due to the nature of their short-term stay in Saskatchewan.
But if the TFW Program is going to continue in Saskatchewan, it needs some big changes. First off, the rules need to be changed so that all employers interested in hiring TFWs must first demonstrate with proof that they have exhausted all efforts to hire Saskatchewan citizens first. Also, the program needs to give TFWs rights and protections so that they aren’t being exploited or treated like slaves, and these rights and protections need to be enforced. If the TFW program is not changed to include these provisions in the near future, then the program needs to be scrapped altogether. Saskatchewan people resent being shoved aside for TFWs, and our governments are doing themselves no favours by allowing the people of Saskatchewan to become resentful about this.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that there is not going to be an outcome to this issue that will make everyone happy – somebody is going to win, and somebody is going to lose. But, maybe we can come close if our governments can strike the right balance between protecting Canadian jobs and giving employers the leeway they need to meet their labour needs in a timely manner. The reality is that there is no ‘magic bullet’ to solve this problem. In the long run, maybe our fertility rate will improve and in the short run, we can find ways of getting as many immigrants into Canada as possible. In the meantime, all of us need to be patient and let cooler heads prevail.