Did you enjoy this past Labour Day long weekend? I hope so. Consider it on an endangered species list of sorts. It may well be replaced with Corporate Power Day in October in honour of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement agreed upon by 12 nations representing 40% of the world economy. Before you label me a leftie communist, hear me out.
The Industrial Revolution took the economies of the world from agricultural based economies, to manufacture driven economies. In so doing created hardship and inequality for all but the wealthiest. Then came the slow and painful birth of labour movements, and after many decades of unrest — blood, sweat, and tears — laws were changed to protect workers. Today, we are in the midst of a globalized technological revolution, and we have begun the cycle of disruption and unrest anew.
We felt the early-warning shockwaves of labour market standards erosion as NAFTA matured and manufacturing facilities and jobs moved beyond our borders. Unions weakened or disappeared. Our landscape shifted to a more service sector driven economy dependent on consumer consumption behaviours. Temporary and part-time employment without benefits or security of tenure increased, and full-time gainful employment opportunities decreased. Canadian minimum wage standards have failed to compensate for higher costs of living, and efforts to increase minimums have met with dire warnings of increased unemployment and higher costs for goods and services.
More recently the debate over minimum wages standards has been rendered moot. Corporations have long had the ability to engage Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW or Migrants if you prefer), not entitled to the normal protections of our existing labour and human rights laws. We are seeing corporations increasingly, but quietly, taking advantage of this labour cost saving option.
The Canadian Workers Advocacy Group(CWAG) points out that 230,000 TFWs enter Canada annually under the labour mobility provisions of existing agreements, and the magnitude of the latest trade deal means that the numbers will increase significantly. This is on top of the 165,000 TFWs who enter the country on average per year with a positive Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIA).
We aren’t just talking about ‘people working on boats’ or ‘harvest season temporary workers’
Multinational corporate agendas simply know no borders. They have a simple objective. Make money for shareholders. Ethics and human rights are simply not a part of the ‘make money’ equation.
“The provisions could be problematic for how we govern the use of temporary foreign workers,” CBC commentator Armine Yalnizyan said. “You remember the RBC example? where a multinational brought in temporary foreign workers to learn how to do the job properly so they could take the job to India and eventually displacing workers.”
Keep in mind that the new TPP agreement also extends right to work privileges to individuals from twelve partner nations and their spouses. Canadians won’t be first in line for jobs or training when corporations can easily, and legally, import employees at a favourable cost. Who will these employees be loyal to? Can we even expect them to be loyal to the overall good of Canada, or speak out in any way, when any behavior not in their employer’s interest could see them fired and their visas revoked?
When it costs too much to hire a Canadian to do the job, you teach the skills to employees from abroad, and then simply open up shop where the conditions for profit are more favourable. Exactly how long will it take before Canadians become willing to give up rights in exchange for work that keeps food on the table? After all, we’ve already become conditioned to minimal security of employment tenure. Some sectors have been completely replaced by part time as the standard, not full time.
Have a look at your monthly cost of living. Now, tell me please, whether or not you can survive in a single or dual income family situation on a maximum hourly income of $8 CDN per hour for each ‘gainfully’ employed family member? $8 per hour without benefits, employment insurance or pension plans, is the current ‘generous’ rate paid by Canadian manufacturing firms in Mexico, This rate may well become the new standard rate for semi-skilled and even skilled employment in the not too distant future. Of course, it is a far cry better than the minimum wage standards of 65 cents per hour in Vietnam and $1.27 per hour in Peru.
Canada, welcome to the new labour movement — moving in on all our lives.