Name change is no solution to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

This week Premier Clark waded into the ongoing debate about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) with her version of a solution; start by changing the name. Her suggested solution is troublesome on many fronts and the fact that the Premier includes her government’s proposed re-engineering of post-secondary education in the same broad sweep of suggested changes to the TFWP only adds to the view of many BC residents that the Premier’s plans will put the province on the wrong track.

Let’s start with the TFWP and the provincial government’s lack of sound leadership on that file. The Premier is the first person to point out that TFWP is a federal responsibility and on that point she is absolutely right. However, the provincial government has been slow—some would argue deliberately so—when it comes to speaking out about the problems with the program. In fact, it has been largely through the efforts of BC’s labour movement that the public was first made aware of the exploitive and unsavory practices of employers in this province who were abusing the program. Here in BC HD Mining, well-known fast food chains and numerous other examples of employer abuse were brought to the public’s attention not by the Premier’s Office, but by citizens concerned that this program was bad news for everyone—except of course employers. And when those problems were first brought to light, Premier Clark steered a wide berth around the issue.

Compounding the problem of an absence of provincial leadership is the suggestion by the Premier in her speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade that TFWP will help address problems in BC’s labour market. The facts don’t support that assertion. According to a study by the C. D. Howe Institute the TFWP will actually increase unemployment. The Institute was not the first one to see this problem. The Parliamentary Budget Office came to the same conclusion when it said “a higher portion of TFWs in the private sector could be putting downward pressure on private sector job vacancies”. The report went on to link these labour market pressures to a lowering of wages and incomes. While some in the employer community might cheer that fact, workers don’t.

To now suggest that the fix to the TFWP is a name change reflects, at best, a superficial response to a very serious problem.

If name change is the foundation for the Premier’s proposed reforms to TFWP, her government’s proposed re-engineering of post-secondary education show similar fault lines. At the very least, if her government is serious about making immigrants to this province welcome and secure in their new home, why is her government cutting $22 million in English Language Training programs delivered by post-secondary institutions in BC. These programs help doctors, accountants, engineers and countless other immigrants strengthen their language skills so that they can succeed and become engaged in their new home. At Vancouver Community College, for example, the BC government’s cuts to ESL will shut the door on language training for more than 5,000 students next year.

If re-engineering is code for funding cuts to valuable programs, the Premier’s plans need some re-engineering of their own.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.