by Joshua Clarskon
I have heard many Yukoners grumble about foreign workers taking all the jobs and earning more an hour than locals. I am here to set those people straight, with facts, not ignorance.
I have in the last few years written a Master’s thesis on Filipino migration into the Yukon. I looked at some of the factors that brought them here: who the stakeholders were, the program created to make it happen, why they came to the Yukon in particular and the overall experience from all parties involved.
The Philippines is one of the top three countries for exporting labour, only behind China and India. The Philippines number one export in fact is labour. At any one time of the year there are over eight million Filipinos working abroad. To think about that in terms with Canada, that would mean one out of every six people would be living abroad for employment.
Filipinos are known world-wide for their strong work ethic, loyalty and English speaking ability. All of these qualities, other than speaking English, are seriously lacking in current young generation of Canadian-born workers who has historically filled the low-paying, low-skilled service industry that Filipinos now dominate.
I currently work with youth and employment and know firsthand what businesses are facing with their young staff. They are often lazy, easily distracted, unreliable, have no sense of loyalty, cannot communicate with adults properly and have no concept of what a good work ethic is.
This is not the case for all young people. I also work with many youths who are hardworking, pleasant and can be relied upon to show up on time for their shifts.
To give an example of some of the difficulties that Yukon businesses face, I interviewed the owner of Canadian Tire and asked him why he looked to the Philippines for workers. He commented that Filipinos were known worldwide as being great workers; he said that before they brought in foreign labour his accounting department would issue over 400 T4s a year; after the Filipinos started working at his business he would issue around 200 a year.
He further commented that they would often hire a local Yukoner, train them for two weeks, and the day they were to be left on their own, they wouldn’t show up. This is not only time consuming and expensive, it is also extremely frustrating.
There is a new sense of self-entitlement among young people nowadays. They feel that minimum wage is beneath them and that they should start in the middle, not at the bottom. My research did not incorporate where those ideas come from, but I suspect they come from parents. If an individual can get more from their allowance for doing nothing and their car insurance, cell phone bills and spending money is covered by their parents, then why would they want to work? Young people aren’t dumb, they know simple mathematics.
In my research I interviewed eight Filipinos, three local business owners and one government employee with the department that runs the Yukon Nominee Program. All three business owners had the same things to say about why they hired Filipinos and why they would continue to. They are hardworking, polite, reliable and loyal; things lacking in the local population.
For the government, foreign workers do a number of things. They help local businesses stay open, pay taxes and contribute a lot of money into the local economy (home and vehicle purchase, opening their own businesses, groceries and everything else needed for life). And, perhaps most importantly, they are often committed to stay and live permanently in the Yukon. This commitment is, in fact, one of the most important considerations to their being accepted into the Yukon for employment.
Filipinos not only bring a strong work ethic to the Yukon, they also bring their culture, their family values and their sense of community. Asians in general tend to be very family oriented; they live together in extended families long after their kids finish high school. The grandparents also live with the family, acting as elders and free babysitters. These living arrangements are foreign for some nuclear families in North America and undesirable in most.
It is amazing to see people engaged in their new community events, playing volleyball together at Rotary Peace Park, performing at community events, fundraising, serving their delicious home cooking, and a variety of other activities that relay a strong commitment to family, friends and community.
To give an example of this commitment, one of the foreign workers I interviewed said that he had been working abroad for over 20 years and he hadn’t seen his child yet, as she was born while he was working abroad. Many foreign workers leave family and friends behind in order to give their families a better life. How many people do you know who would leave their friends, family, community and country to serve coffee or stock shelves for people who didn’t understand or fully appreciate their sacrifice?
Just imagine how long the line-up at the Tim Horton’s drive-through would be in the morning! Would you work at 5 a.m. in the morning to serve coffee to grumpy, impatient, unappreciative people? Next time you see a Filipino or a foreign worker, try and think about some of these things. Ask yourself, would you make the same sacrifices?
Foreign workers aren’t taking all the good jobs – individuals from Ontario are doing that. They are simply working the jobs locals Yukoners refuse to work.
Joshua Clarkson is a born and raised Yukoner working towards his Master’s degree at UBC-Okanagan in sociology, anthropology and human geography. His thesis title is Filipinos in the Great White North.