Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another dirty foreign worker story

If you spend any time at all reading the self-righteous press releases issued by the unctuous moraliser John Baird and his minions at the Department of Foreign Affairs, it would be easy to conclude that Canada under the Harper gang is a light unto the nations, a shining beacon of hope for the underprivileged and downtrodden the world over. Hardly a day goes by without our condemning this or being appalled by that or outraged by some other stain on the fabric of humanity.

And in principal, there is nothing wrong with that, but the Harper government was elected to govern Canada, not to set the rest of the world right. Why so much effort in finding the mote in everybody else's eye when we have so much to be outraged and appalled at right here at home?

Take the Foreign Worker Program for instance. This story on view at CBC about the plight of Guatemalan chicken catchers lists a litany of abuses, from workers having their passports seized, to dangerous working conditions, to unpaid work, to subhuman living conditions. These workers on entering the country are for all practical purposes the property of their employer-sponsors. If they quit they can't legally take another job here. If they complain they can be dismissed and deported. They have for all practical purposes the same rights as the foreign workers abused as a matter of course throughout the dictatorships of the Middle East, which is to say the right to shut-up and get back to work.

The precedent for institutionalizing the exploitation of desperate foreign workers was set in the 1960's with the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The impetus for SAWP were conditions similar to those that brought about the TFW program; the claim by employers that Canadians could not be found to do the work at the wages on offer. In both cases, the more obvious solution, paying decent wages, was overlooked in favour of self-serving arguments about remaining competitive etc., which is another way of saying Canadians would rather live with this institutionalized racism than pay an extra fifty cents for a bag of apples or a chicken.

If Canada truly needs foreign workers, they need to come here as proper immigrants with the same rights as any other citizen of this country, both in the workplace and in general. As long as over a million Canadians are out of work, it would seem unlikely that an authentic need for more labour can be demonstrated. Where there is a shortage of specific skill-sets, it is the responsibility of an enlightened leadership in a contemporary democracy to provide the education and training to eliminate those shortages.

The fact that more and more stories are coming to light about the abuse of foreign workers should be every bit as concerning as the fact that this government has deliberately created the present TFW program to keep the Canadian labour market more "flexible" than it would otherwise be.

In other words, our leaders in Ottawa have devised a strategy that permits the exploitation of foreign workers while at the same time driving down wages of Canadian workers. That's hardly a solid ethical foundation from which to harangue the rest of the world about their faults.

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