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Diwa MarcelinoTFWs deserve fair treatment

By Diwa Marcelino

Ninety-five thousand professional engineers will retire by 2020, according to a 2013 Engineers Canada news release. “Canada will face a skills shortage because the workforce cannot be replaced fast enough by incoming Canadian or experienced internationally trained graduates,” the release stated.

Minister of Employment and Social Development, Pierre Poilievre, announced funding for two projects designed to accelerate the accreditation process for internationally trained doctors and engineers on April 13, 2015. The announcement took place during his speech to the Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Immigration Summit 2015. The summit discussion focused on how to enhance immigration policies to keep Canada an attractive place for international talent.

The Canadian government has been revising and sometimes reversing immigration and employment policy for several years in order to fulfill the country’s need for labour amidst a dwindling supply of workers, in large part, due to the retirement of baby boomers. According to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) 6.4 million jobs will become available mostly due to retirements, deaths and emigration.

Besides increasing levels of permanent immigration to fix Canada’s worker drought, the federal government’s contentious Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been tasked to fill “temporary” labour gaps. However, due to multiple controversies regarding worker exploitation and the misuse of the program, the government reversed policy direction and created barriers to using the program such as increasing work permit fees from $275 to $1000. Some migrant rights groups have denounced this aspect of the program stating that any additional fees should be paid by the employer but may be illegally passed on to the foreign workers.

To add insult to injury, as of April 1, 2015, migrant workers under the program who have worked in Canada for over four years will be sent home and barred from re-entry for another four years despite promises from recruiters and preceding government policy that indicated that these workers would have a pathway to permanent residency. These latest rules of the program have initiated the exodus of approximately 70,000 workers, according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Decades of evidence prove that when migrants are employed under closed work permits, which tie workers to one employer, the result is abuse and exploitation of the worker. Workers who fear being deported back to their country are not likely to speak out against employers. This temporary employment and immigration arrangement also creates an underclass of non-voting, non-citizen workers who are prone to wage exploitation, bullying, unjust terminations, sexual harassment and other abuses. The lack of opportunity for migrants in their home countries compels them to accept poorly paid jobs in dubious working environments here in Canada.

Countries like Canada continue to take advantage of workers from countries like the Philippines whose undeveloped economies fail to create decent paying jobs. Trade policies, which have removed and reduced trade tariffs, have opened Philippine markets to highly competitive firms, which inundate the country with cheap imports, destroying local manufacturing and agricultural industries.

During an ASEAN summit last November, Philippine President Aquino said, “migrant workers contribute significantly to the economies and societies of their host governments. We have a collective responsibility and moral duty to uphold their dignity and promote and protect their human rights.” Despite this statement, the Philippine president’s track record and that of his predecessors have failed to show how the government plans to protect their migrant workers or develop quality jobs at home.

The real casualties in all of this are the families who suffer because of their need to separate in order to survive. Mothers have to leave their children because they care for the children of others. Families miss sharing dinner together or celebrating birthdays and holidays. Continuing to offer stopgap and ad-hoc solutions will not help to develop the economies of either the Philippines or Canada. Both countries require long-term solutions for long-term problems.

Diwa Marcelino is the program coordinator for Migrante Manitoba.