Temporary foreign worker program far from ‘slavery’

The Federal government recently announced the shuttering of the temporary foreign worker program in the Yukon.

The Federal government recently announced the shuttering of the temporary foreign worker program in the Yukon. The program was a pilot initiative intended to help the Yukon deal with seasonal worker shortages, allowing local employers to bring in foreign workers of a fixed-term basis to satisfy local labour requirements.

The Yukon Federation of Labour trumpeted the news, decrying the program as a vehicle for “slave labour” and the cancellation as good news for Canadian workers.

While there may be some issues with the program in other jurisdictions, methinks the labour federation may be exercising some hyperbolic liberty with their description of the program as “slave labour,” a description which borders on a pretty grievous insult to those employers (or, by the federation’s definition, “slavers”) who participated in the program.

The Yukon, given our seasonal work cycle and relative isolation, has needs for such programs to ensure our economy has the necessary labour to meet the short-term needs of employers. Without available labour those projects that would otherwise be green-lit are moth-balled, and we lose not only the benefit of that specific project, but the ancillary benefits which flow from those local businesses which provide logistical or other support.

The Yukon is especially susceptible to summer worker shortages, as our season is especially short and our location is especially remote. During our summer season the rest of Canada is busy putting projects into the building phase, and we compete with jurisdictions that are more central, more accessible and cheaper to live. If no local labour was available at a reasonable wage, Yukon employers were allowed to make use of the temporary foreign worker program to bring in workers to meet their needs.

An employer under the program had to meet certain criteria when hiring, with the centerpiece being that the pay must be at least the median wage particular to that profession or position. The program was not designed to under-cut wages, but rather to provide at least the median wage to foreign workers, and only after the employer had attempted to fill the job by advertising in Canada.

The prospective foreign employee then had the option to take the job or not, much like a Canadian citizen. If the wage was commiserate with the position, the foreign worker could accept or not accept, a bargain for services rendered. Those workers are subject to all of the same work place safety legislation and oversight as any other business in Yukon. Far from a “slave labour” type position, the temporary foreign worker provides services in exchange for remuneration under the same umbrella of labour protections as any other employee.

Further, as the employment was on a temporary basis, the employees did not find themselves bound to long-term contracts which they could not break.

Some jurisdictions, such as Qatar (whose labour practises are currently under the microscope due to its upcoming hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022), take in foreign workers, remove their passports, allow long-term employment contracts and pay far less than standard wages of resident workers. These workers often do not even have an end date on their contracts and are ignored by local labour regulators, truly creating a economic sub-class of workers.

The Yukon temporary foreign worker program took great pains to avoid such pitfalls, and rather created a win-win scenario by which the local economy received the seasonal workers it needs, while the foreign worker receives fair wage in a safe and reliable work environment.

The temporary foreign worker program is designed to meet short-term needs, and for that reason is required on top of the already existing Yukon Nominee Program, which is designed to fill long-term positions. Under the Yukon Nominee Program an employer is expected to have two years worth of work for a prospective foreign employee, with the worker eventually obtaining permanent residency in Canada through the program.

The temporary foreign worker program identifies the need for seasonal workers, and allows employers to hire skilled and unskilled labour flexibly to account of the cyclical needs of a given project.

Both programs work well for the Yukon, as both target different structural issues in the Yukon labour market.

The comments from the labour federation comparing the program to slavery are insulting to local employers, as it implies that employers are taking advantage of a program to ride rough-shod over the rights of temporary workers. In my opinion it is just the opposite; local employers are providing opportunity to foreign workers to earn good wages in safe work environments, and only after seeking help in the local labour market.

The corollary benefit is that the Yukon economy as a whole keeps expanding, eventually creating more permanent jobs, which in turn leads to more Yukon nominee applications and a benefit to all residents of the Yukon.

Far from slavery, properly overseen programs such as the temporary foreign worker program keep the Yukon working, and I would encourage the Yukon government to look into renegotiating the program with the Federal government.

Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading


Wyatt’s World for Oct. 21, 2020

Movie poster for <em>Ìfé,</em> a movie being shown during OUT North Film Festival, which includes approximately 20 different films accessible online this year. (Submitted)
OUT North Film Festival moves to virtual format

In its ninth year, the artistic director said this year has a more diverse set of short and feature films

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting instead of 30 days to make up for lost time caused by COVID-19 in the spring. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Legislative assembly sitting extended

Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting. The extension… Continue reading

Today’s mailbox: Mad about MAD

Letters to the editor published Oct. 16, 2020

Most Read