Sunday, April 21, 2013

A little bit of "Third World", please.

Contributor: Tasia Alexopoulos

The Toronto Star ran a knee-jerk piece on the Temporary Foreign Workers program this morning. Written by Haroon Siddiqui, the article is an example of the critiques being levelled against the journalism industry right now. Zero research, bombastic argument, and stereotyping all thrown into one sloppy page filler: journalism!

In "Stop importing temporary foreign workers into Canada" Siddiqui makes a pretty bold argument with little to no evidence supporting it. Considering the ramifications of what he's suggesting, I think it deserves a second look. 

Third World? In Canada? Ew.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program, Siddiqui argues, has allowed the creation of a "Third World" in Canada. Let's just set aside for a moment that most people don't use the term "Third World" anymore, historically and politically the term isn't useful -- it describes a particular moment in time (the Cold War era) and its usage encourages stark black and white divisions. It's boring, it's not complex, and it completely ignores social and economic intricacies within nations. Actually, Siddiqui's article is a perfect demonstration of why the term isn't used as often anymore. What does it mean to  create a little "Third World" in Canada? Siddiqui doesn't bother to explain (journalism!) what these Third World conditions look like and he just repeats that jobs are being taken from Canadians and given to Temporary Foreign Workers.

Colloquially,  the term Third World is often used to describe   ‘underdeveloped’/over-exploited geopolitical entities, i.e. countries, regions, even continents; and to refer to oppressed nationalities from these world areas who are now resident in ‘developed’ First World" (Cheryl Johnson-Odim). So does Siddiqui mean that Canada is just letting in too many non-Canadians? Or, does he mean that the Program is creating Third World like conditions in Canada? Is he living in some kind of fantasy land where Canada is perfect? Is the introduction of too many "aliens" upsetting the precarious Canadian ecosystem? How about the fact that really shitty conditions already exist in Canada? Maybe Siddiqui hasn't heard this idea about a "Fourth World", a term applied to populations or areas that live in conditions that are sub-par to say the least, conditions that could be considered "Third World in the First World"(hierarchy, super fun). This is often used to discuss child poverty, under served neighborhoods in cities, Reserves, or certain rural areas. Conditions on Reserves and Northern communities, in particular, have been a source of humiliation for Canada on the international scene. Child poverty and well-being is not great for a "rich" country (recently rated 17 out of 29 in a UNICEF report). Women are still likely to make less than men in the same jobs, despite pay equity law. Labour casualization is rampant, which often means no benefits for workers and no job security. The number of working poor is rising. Are these conditions really made worse by Temporary Foreign Workers? If so, how? You can't just make crazy claims like this and not back them up.

All Siddiqui provides to support his claim is that there are too many jobs and too many unemployed Canadians and somehow that is Third World-ish. This seems to be the level of his rhetoric:

Mad, mad skills.

Siddiqui clearly did not do his research. I'm amazed this article crossed an Editors desk and they were like "yeah, sounds great buddy!" It's not great and it is riddled with inaccuracies. According to Siddiqui, Temporary Foreign Workers are "brought in ostensibly because of extensive skilled labour shortages" and he goes on to point out that of the approximate 338'000 TFWs in Canada, 44'745 are in accommodations and food services. He writes "That's your foreign worker pouring coffee at Tim Horton's, baking pizzas at Boston Pizza, making beds at some motel and tending to a senior citizen somewhere... How much skill do you need for such jobs?"

No. No. No. First of all, that is rude. Really? How much skill do you need for such jobs? Has Siddiqui ever worked in the service industry? Of course you need skill for those jobs. What, because those of us who work in the service industry aren't writing for illustrious The Toronto Star we aren't skilled? After reading Siddiqui's article I'd guess that journalists for the Toronto Star don't need skill, either.  Second, there are four different skill levels in the TFW program and those who work in the service industry are considered low-skill workers.

If the Toronto Star and Haroon Siddiqui were at all interested in accuracy they might have looked into the Program and discovered that workers are classified as Agricultural Workers, Live in Caregivers, Lower-skilled Occupations, and Higher Skilled Occupations.  So high skilled workers are not brought to Canada to serve pizza. These people are often highly skilled, many having University educations and professional training, but they are classified as low skilled workers because of the occupations available to them. The Program defines them as low or high skilled, but not all jobs are considered skilled as Siddiqui seems to be asserting.

He continues that "the real issue is that Canadians don’t want those jobs, certainly not at the wages on offer" and that the "skills shortage mantra is a bit of a scam." Give this guy some kind of big award, he just solved the mystery of the TFW Program! Investigative Journalism!  Hurray! Rounds of applause.

Really? Some Canadians don't want to work in certain jobs? This isn't a new thought and actually this is kind of the impetus for the Program to begin with. Some jobs are not desirable. Some jobs don't provide enough flexibility. Some jobs have exceptionally high turn over rates. Siddiqui writes that there are six jobless Canadians for every available job, but what about businesses that are desperate for workers? Let's take a step back from the Boston Pizzas and the RBCs. There are small businesses that depend on Temporary Foreign Workers and who pay them the same wages as Canadians. What does Siddiqui say to those people who would have to close their business without these workers? Well, he doesn't say anything because apparently journalism is all about presenting one side of an incredible complex and nuanced story. He says: Third World! They're taking our jobs! GRRRRR! Shut it down! 

Shut that shit down

What would be the best solution to the problem? As the headline reads: we should stop "importing" Temporary Foreign Workers,  "Ottawa should end the temporary worker program — forthwith — and forbid businesses from paying 15 per cent less to those already here."

That is stupid. I'm sorry, but it's just plain idiocy. You cannot shut down the TFW Program. The logistics alone are mind boggling. The businesses, the workers, what happens to everyone? They just.. leave? Who is going to pick your locally grown tomatoes in Leamington, Ontario(watch the film El Contrato, if you haven't already)?  What we can do is insist that the Program be less exploitative. What Siddiqui could have done was look at the historical, political, social and economic reasons for the existence of such a Program. He could consider the major question "who benefits?" Almost 400'000(documented) workers who have less rights than "Canadian" workers, who can be paid less, who can be housed poorly, who are extremely vulnerable to abuse, and who have very little chance of remaining permanently in Canada? That has to benefit someone. There is obviously a need for workers, skilled and otherwise, but there is a greater need for security and permanence. Make it harder to abuse the system. Yes, forbid businesses from paying foreign workers less money. Increase regulation. Inspect housing. Crack down on Agents who exploit vulnerable people for their own gain. Canada could go ahead and sign the The UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. In fact, Canada could be one of the first migrant-receiving State to sign the convention.

Canada shouldn't toss out the Program, it should realize what an incredible embarrassment it is and work to make it better and more equitable. Why are people coming to Canada to work uncertain jobs in potentially horrible conditions? As a nation, Canada has a hand in creating the circumstances in other countries that make it necessary for people to leave to find employment.

Stop being idiots, maybe.

In conclusion, the solution isn't to write some ill-researched and misleading article about shutting down a Program that can't be shut down. The solution is to be thoughtful. The solution is so think about how we can make human lives better, without penalizing them. Less sanctimonious bullshit, more careful consideration. Unfortunately, careful consideration is something that seems to be sorely lacking in the media.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...