Temporary Foreign Workers Program: A Conflict of Class

Recently the CBC has reported on a four decade old program, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. This program is seemingly designed to help the economy by allowing Canadian employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis when qualified Canadians are unavailable. However, recently, reports of employers abusing the system to prevent paying high wages and benefits to Canadian workers have come out. CBC heard from an Alberta Labour group saying the Harper Government is potentially colluding with employers to underpay foreign workers. (SEE VIDEO

The program does have supporters, they argue it is necessary to keep Canadian business competitive and in-fact “creates Canadian jobs”. A debate hosted by CBC examining multiple perspectives can be found (Listen HERE)

This issue gained traction with many Canadians who fear losing their jobs to foreign workers who are willing to take less pay to come to Canada. Oil Sands workers, unskilled workers such as McDonald’s Employees, steel workers and many others were seeing their jobs being turned over. The Government has pledged to address these concerns to ensure “Canadians are not losing their jobs” The Vancouver Sun reported that the Prime Minister of Canada pledged reform. (Read Article)

The Member of Parliament for Newton-North Delta spoke in Parliament about the Government’s Temporary Workers Program from the perspective of the opposition NDP. Her comments regarding a Chinese owned mine which required workers to speak Mandarin Chinese were critical of government willingness to serve the employers. She also provides criticism to McDonald’s for bringing in temporary workers to take Canadian’s jobs. (See Video)

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From a Marxist perspective, we begin with the assumption that regardless of nationality, economic relations determine social relations. It doesn’t matter if a worker is Canadian or Croatian to the employer. For capital, the purpose of workers is to create profit for the employer through surplus-value. The temporary workers are able to be more fully exploited by offering them less wage and no benefits. As long as the temporary worker costs less, and is able to provide the same revenue back to the company, they will always be preferred to Canadians workers, because the exploitation is greater and therefore, the surplus-value leads to increased profit for employers. Due to this economic reality, Marx predicts that this is where social relationships are formed. When the means of production change, so too does the social relationship between members of society. Canadian employers therefore display little hesitancy to laying off their fellow citizens and employees, the workers are simply viewed as a commodity. Because foreign workers will be more profitable, it is a straightforward social decision for Canadian employers (Paclich, 93). The Bourgeoisie class is able to exploit the Proletariat. The temporary foreign workers program is just another class conflict within society. Indeed, for Marx, “society is always the outcome of ongoing struggle and conflict” (Pavlich, 91).

Marx would further suggest that the Canadian workers are right to feel threatened by Foreign workers, they have much in common and this leads to competition in a capitalist controlled world. They both must work for wages to survive, “thus becoming utterly dependent on […] capitalists” (Pavlich, 92). The Capital class will exploit temporary workers just as easily and readily as their Canadian counterparts. Marx offers class consciousness as the solution to cut-throat competition and communal ownership of the means of production as the alternative to Capitalism.

To encourage comments I invite discussion about additional parallels between Canadian workers and temporary foreign workers, or reaction to a local MP Jinny Sim’s comments in Parliament.

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One response to “Temporary Foreign Workers Program: A Conflict of Class

  1. Good use of video resources. Thanks for providing a range of perspectives on this topic.

    Question: Many of the workers in the TFWP were employed in service sector positions (ex. fast food). The clientele of these businesses is largely composed of Canadian citizens. How might a Marxist legal theorist explain the relationship between the working-class Tim Horton’s customer purchasing a double-double and the foreign worker preparing the beverage? What role does ideology play in this relationship?