Skip to content

Trans-Pacific Partnership would mean more temporary foreign workers

TPPThe Trans-Pacific Partnership could mean more foreign workers, exploitation and suppressed wages in Canada.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has a mixture of countries within it including G7 ‘major advanced economies’ (the United States, Canada and Japan), G20 ‘major economies’ (Australia and Mexico), relatively smaller economies (New Zealand and Singapore) and ‘developing economies’ (Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam).

While the Harper government had promised that the TPP text would be released within “the next few days” after the conclusion of the negotiations on October 5, the prime minister now says, “In terms of the text, as you know, the parties, the 12 countries, continue to work on that.” 

But even though the text has not been made public, there are significant reasons to be concerned.

The Globe and Mail reports, “The deal, like Canada’s existing trade pacts, contains provisions that would make it easier for companies from TPP countries to bring temporary foreign workers to their operations in Canada. Employers from some of those countries would also be exempt from a [minimum] wage floor Ottawa established in 2014 to ensure foreign workers on intracompany transfers are paid the prevailing wage for their occupation.”

It further specifies, “The growing number of countries that Canada is exempting under trade deals also means a larger number of foreign workers could come here without going through a recently launched screening process. Federal officials confirmed to The Globe the TPP deal would impose the wage-floor rule on foreign workers from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. However, employers could still bring in workers to Canada from those countries through intracompany transfers or other provisions of the trade deal without labour-market screening provided they comply with the wage floor.”

In October 2012, Toronto Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, “Under Stephen Harper’s federal government, the number of temporary migrant workers allowed into Canada has exploded. …Employers say they need foreign temporary labour because they can’t find Canadians willing to work. What they mean is that they can’t find Canadians willing to work at the wages being offered. …This government just authorizes more temporary migrant workers, knowing full well that — regardless of their formal rights — they are in no position to complain.”

This week, Armine Yalnizyan, the senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, commented, “In 2006, there were 54,000 TFWP [Temporary Foreign Worker Program] active permits on Dec. 31, growing to 95,100 permits in 2014 (after peaking at more than 112,500 workers in 2009). Foreign workers resident in Canada under the IMP [International Mobility Program] grew from 83,500 in 2006 to 259,500 in 2014. In stark contrast, the number of traditional economic immigrants only grew from 138,000 to 165,000 during the same period. We have more than tripled our intake of foreign workers, but two-thirds of these workers cannot stay.”

In December 2007, the Council of Canadians opposed the North American Competitiveness Council’s recommendation to expand the temporary foreign workers program to service the tar sands. In November 2009, we noted Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s warning that foreign workers are particularly vulnerable given they often don’t speak English and owe their status in Canada to their employer. More recently, Council of Canadians organizer Harjap Grewal has commented, “Racist attitudes drive trade instruments that guarantee exploitative labour for corporations. Migrant worker programs and outsourcing rely on the construction of ‘competing’ work forces based on racial and national identities to provide the social license to justify dramatically lower wages and horrific working conditions to the ‘foreign worker’.”

Beyond the issue of temporary foreign workers, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which encompasses more than 40 per cent of the global economy and a mixture of ‘major advanced economies’ and ‘developing economies’ – could worsen the conditions for workers in poorer countries (as happened to farmers in Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement with the elimination of subsidies for corn production) and result in increased coerced or forced migration of people due to their inability to economically survive in their own homeland.

The Council of Canadians opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership and demands immigration status and full protection for all workers.

Further reading
Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration resource on migrant workers
Trans-Pacific Partnership campaign web-page