Temporary Foreign Workers – New Proletariat Class?

Having been in existence for many years, the Temporary Foreign Workers program is making headlines in newspapers across the country due to some companies’ blatant abuse of this program to exploit foreign workers. To fully understand why this is happening and explain it in a Marxist perspective we must explain what the Temporary Foreign Workers program entails. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or otherwise known as TFWP, is a government designed programs to assist employers employ qualified foreign workers to work in their company when they are unable to find any qualified Canadian workers (WorkSafeBC, 2014). The TFWP program allows and permits eligible foreign workers to come to Canada and work here for a limited period of time; however the companies requesting foreign workers must be able to demonstrate that they cannot find qualified Canadian workers to employ (WorkSafeBC, 2014).

However while it does sound good on paper, in practice the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been used as a means to exploit foreign workers coming here intent on making a decent living and in some cases becoming a Canadian citizen. One of the controversies that surround the TFWP is most accurately portrayed by the first paragraph of a CBC article:

A temporary foreign worker who sold massage devices and other products in mall kiosks has reported he and his colleagues worked hundreds of hours for no pay, while forced to live under constant threat of deportation. (CBC, 2014)

But it is not only the foreign workers that are exploited, but the Temporary Foreign Worker Program also has a consequential impact on Canadian workers as well. The TFWP has Canadians feeling uncertain about their future because they believe it is easier for foreigners to take their jobs (The Canadian Press, 2014). The controversy is aligning with all Canadians due to high levels of unemployment throughout the country, and a mass of people looking for jobs (The Canadian Press, 2014). While it is believed that the TFWP is to bring in workers to fill voids where no qualified Canadian workers can be found, it is not the case. Through a go public inquiry conducted by CBC news, they found that there have been a few McDonald’s located in British Columbia that have been opting to give more and more hours to foreign workers and reducing the hours of Canadian workers (Tomlinson, 2014).

There are many ways to explain why this program was proposed, and it is Karl Marx who offers the most compelling perspective which explains the inherent reasoning behind the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Marx, whom made suggestions similar to communism and socialism as we know it today, argued that society is shaped by economic relations (Pavlich, 2011). But more specifically the economic relations in regards to the mode of production: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the people that own the means of production and employ workers to fill their workshop, while the proletariat are the workers, who trade their labor for wages. But this relationship is an exploitative one, therefore the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat to generate a profit, and the greater the exploitation the greater the profit. However to keep the capitalistic system, there needs to be conditions in place to ensure sustainability, which is to make the proletariat utterly dependent on the bourgeoisies (Pavlich, 2011).

There were two different strains of theories stemming from Marx’s theory: Instrumental and Structuralist Marxism. The Instrumental Marxist argue that the state is the right hand man of the capitalist class, therefore act to every whim and command the bourgeoisie give (Comack, 2006). While Structuralist Marxist believes that the state through accumulation and legitimization processes strives to reproduce class relations and domination in line with capitalism (Comack, 2006).

According the Marx explaining the Temporary Foreign Worker Program would be a walk in the park. The TFWP is in existence to promote the bourgeoisies’ interests by increasing the ability to increase exploitation of foreign workers thus generating more profit. Furthermore with the ability to bring in more and more workers adding to the reserve workforce enables the owners or otherwise the capitalists to ensure that there is plenty of competition for the job therefore keep wages down. Along with the increase dependence of the temporary foreign workers onto the people whom employ them, there is also an increase in exploitation as shown in the CBC quote above. Where the refusal to work and request more humane working conditions usually ends with termination of the employment or threat to do that.

The ability to exploit workers that put up less resistance and unable to establish an union or band together to petition for higher wages, are exactly the workers that companies want and the ones that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program brings over. With the threat of replacement with another foreign worker, Marx would claim that the bourgeoisies’ will to maximize profits through exploitation is clearly expressed through the TFWP. Similarly the exploitation of these foreign workers impacts the Canadians just as much. Like the case of McDonald’s as noted previously, Marx would claim that it just adds to the supplementary workforce and increases exploitation, therefore increasing competition for jobs which results in lower wages and lower costs of operation for employers.
While the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is opposed by a majority of people across Canada, not just for the exploitative acts that it condemns over foreign workers; but also because it enables the ability for employers to opt for cheaper foreign workers rather than domestic and more expensive workers. It is not surprising according to Marx to see that Canada’s government insists that the TFWP is absolutely necessary in sustaining the economy. Marx would claim that the government’s inherent goal is to maintain the capitalistic interests, thus the ability to bring in foreign workers would maintain the status-quo of bourgeoisie and proletariat, even with the push of Canadians for higher wages and good working conditions.

Works Cited
CBC. (2014, May 5). Foreign Worker Reports Death Threats, Coercion. Retrieved from Huffington Pos: Business: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/05/foreign-workers-canada_n_5265763.html

Comack, E. (2006). Locating law: race/class/gender/sexuality connections. In E. Comack, Theoretical Approaches in the Sociology of Law: Theoretical Excursions (pp. 18-67). Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Ontario: Oxford University Press.

The Canadian Press. (2014, April 29). Jason Kenney on hot seat as controversy rages over temporary foreign workers. Retrieved from CBC News: Politics: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/jason-kenney-on-hot-seat-as-controversy-rages-over-temporary-foreign-workers-1.2625377

Tomlinson, K. (2014, April 14). McDonald’s accused of favouring foreign workers. Retrieved from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mcdonald-s-accused-of-favouring-foreign-workers-1.2598684

WorkSafeBC. (2014). Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Retrieved from WorkBC: http://www.workbc.ca/Employers/Find-the-right-talents/Recruitment-and-Retention/Temporary-Foreign-Worker-Program.aspx


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One response to “Temporary Foreign Workers – New Proletariat Class?

  1. This is a thoughtful and well-researched post. You have effectively applied a Marxist legal framework to make sense of this topic.

    Question: From a Marxist perspective, law performs both coercive and symbolic functions. What are the symbolic dimensions of the TFW Program? How does the law in this area function to reproduce and legitimize capitalist relations of production?