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HARPER: THE WORKERS’ ENEMY

Frank A. Pelaschuk

One of the claims you hear from members of Harper’s gang justifying the import of foreign workers to replace Canadian workers, is that Canadian workers don’t have the requisite skills and training.

Today, everyone’s in a tizzy and the Harper gang is scrambling. Yesterday, news broke that temporary foreign workers with visas have replaced 45 Canadian RBC workers. In defending itself, RBC says that they are not hiring workers but working from a supplier, iGate, an outsourcing firm based in California. That explanation by CEO Gord Nixon is laughable and insulting, hiding as it does behind a technicality. The fact is, 45 workers are affected. When the dam burst, RBC quickly realized it had a publicity nightmare in its greedy corporate hands. It promised to find positions for the 45 workers, if they wanted them.

But RBC was not the only one scrambling. So was the Harper regime suddenly confronted by an onslaught of blame, well deserved if a little late. Cabinet ministers and staffers spent the day falling all over themselves while decrying as “unacceptable” the replacement of skilled Canadian workers with foreigners. But that feigned surprise and mock outrage is about as believable as Harper and gang discovering the milk of human kindness, ethics and shame. It just ain’t going to happen.

The RBC episode is not the only instance of foreign workers taking Canadian jobs. HD Mines, in Tumbler Ridge, BC, was allowed to import 201 Chinese workers to take Canadian jobs after 300 Canadian applicants were found not to have the required skills. Questions, however, were raised with claims that many of the applicants were, indeed, highly skilled with years of experience. As well, there were suggestions the company had not tried hard enough to find skilled Canadian workers preferring to employ Chinese labour for less. What was going on here? Was the issue really about skills and experience or was it, as it appears in almost all such issues, simply about wages?

Well, it depends, Harper and gang might say. They will tell you that there is no percentage for business not to do the right thing, that it doesn’t pay for business to give itself a shiner when it could hurt the bottom line. Unfortunately, past experience shows that argument to be bogus. Why would Big Business do the “right” thing unless, by that, is meant making a profit, when governments, such as Harper’s, make it so easy and alluring to do the wrong thing? It was Harper and gang who made adjustments to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program’s Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (LMO) which allowed companies unable to find eligible Canadian workers for highly specialized jobs to pay foreign imports wages 15% below that of Canadian workers. Note that these are for highly specialized skilled jobs. But how many of the 2,400 companies listed for accelerated approval, including MacDonald’s, Tim Hortons, A&W, and Subway, meet that criterion. Harper and gang, with those changes, almost made a certainty that abuses would occur. Not only that, they increased the chances of abuse by turning a deaf ear to those naysayers who suggested that loosening the rules would create difficulties not only for Canadians but also for those temporary foreign workers. If that is not undermining the Canadian worker, what is? Canadians should be enraged and many are. But it’s not enough to be angry. We have to stay angry and use what we remember come next election.

Regardless of how nicely CRAP (i.e., Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party) may package it, corporations are not citizens. They do not have a conscience or a moral compass. In that respect, they are much like the Harper gang. It’s all about the bottom line.

But why is Harper attacking Canadian labour? Why are he and gang allowing Canadian jobs to be sold to foreign workers? This is the government that purports to want to create Canadian jobs yet, in 2012, allowed 338,000 foreign workers to do Canadian jobs. In a country of such high unemployed, are there really that many stupid, lazy, unskilled Canadian workers? Harper’s gang must think so. Or could it simply be that intelligence, skills and ambition are not the issue after all but, rather, government sanctioned union busting and wage cutting? One gets the impression that Harper and gang, with their laissez faire approach to corporate shenanigans are quite content to allow Big Business to feed off the blood, sweat, and backs of foreign workers doing Canadian jobs at the expense of skilled, hardworking Canadian workers.

We saw this a couple of years ago when Caterpillar bought out Progress Rail in London, Ontario. It wasn’t enough for Caterpillar that it was given substantial tax breaks by federal and provincial governments without either making demands that jobs be protected and that Canadian money stay in Canada. When the 465 Caterpillar workers refused the company’s demand that they take a wage cut of 50%, the workers were locked out and then the plant closed, Caterpillar pulling up stakes and moving to the US to Muncie, Indiana, an anti-union state were workers did take the cut. This is Capitalism at its most inglorious, offensive and despicable. Unfortunately for those Ontario workers, the only support they received from either provincial or federal government were sad clucks of sympathy. What was worse was that even from fellow Canadians there was little sympathy, envious anti-unionists in particular deriving, it seemed, a certain schadenfreude over what had happened. Too bad. You brought it on yourself. You should have taken the cuts. Nice.

This is where Harper and gang have taken us. Busting unions, cutting wages, corporate tax breaks, jobs and businesses shutting down, jobs exported, workers imported, corporations moving on. Harper and thugs are more interested in the health and welfare of Big Business than in the health and welfare of ordinary Canadians. They have demonstrated that time and again. For Big Business, it’s about cutting labour costs and maximizing profits. It may be legal; it’s certainly not nice.

Which finally brings me to Margaret Thatcher who died yesterday. Of her, Stephen Harper said she gave “wise, gracious counsel.” He has learned well from her and from Ronald Reagan, her twin sibling in spirit. For the working stiff, they were not nice people. In fact, they were the enemy. Both are gone and, by this writer, neither respected, loved nor missed.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

One response

  1. Ugh, when I read 338,000, it socked me in the gut. I’m a student, finishing 8 years of university with 2 science degrees and a professional diploma in Dietetics. The likelihood of me finding a job in 2013? Low. Until every employable Canadian has a job, we need to stop looking elsewhere. It’s so frustrating. We all have skills. We all need jobs. If we’re just below the requirements, train us.

    Thanks for such a great article! The whole RBC fiasco had me steaming out my ears. Glad to see the shit’s hit the fan and the higher-ups are scrambling. What frustrates me the most is that they got rid of the employees who were ALMOST up for retirement. Thus, negating the pensions they’ve worked for. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr. No compassion.

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