The Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada: Low-Skilled Workers as an Extreme Form of Flexible Labour
Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal, Vol. 31, p. 101-139, 2009
42 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2010
Date Written: October 13, 2009
This article focuses on the legal regime that regulates the entry and exit of low-skilled temporary foreign and these workers’ rights and terms and conditions of employment while in Canada. We have chosen to study this program because little has been written on it and it is an example of the international trend towards a proliferation of temporary migration programs for low-skilled workers. Our primary concern is the employment-related rights of the temporary foreign workers, although we are also interested in beginning to explore the impact of this program in relation to the Canadian labour market. In order to understand the distinctive features and effects of the low-skilled temporary foreign workers program, we situate the low-skill Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) in the context of the emergence and development of Canada’s general TFWP. We begin by tracing the changes in the TFWP from its birth in the 1970s, and the gradual shift from immigration for permanent settlement to a reliance on temporary workers to address labour market shortages. We show how changes introduced in the 1990s resulted in the polarization and proliferation of targeted temporary migrant worker programs with different restrictions and entitlements for different groups of workers. We present data to demonstrate the rise in the numbers of temporary foreign workers entering Canada associated with these Program changes. The data also foreshadows the changes to the low-skill TFWP, which we concentrate on in the second part of the article. In our discussion of the low-skill TFWP, first we analyze the changes that have made the program more “employer-friendly” and then we examine the mechanisms designed to protect temporary foreign workers. In the conclusion, we offer a preliminary (and tentative) assessment of the impact of the program on the Canadian labour market and evaluate whether or not the employment rights of the workers who are admitted under it are protected. We also indicate how the economic crisis has influenced the legitimacy of the low-skilled TFWP.
Keywords: temporary migration, labour, Canada, rights
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