Logo en Global Donate now


Document Details


Print and save

Newspaper article

Temporary Filipino workers on front line of growing debate




Douglas Todd

Newspaper title

The Vancouver Sun

Full text

The faces of the staff at Tim Horton's, Denny's and many other Canadian food chains have been rapidly changing.
The servers and cooks at countless Canadian food outlets, as well as the staff in seniors care centres, are increasingly migrant Filipinos, says University of B.C. PhD candidate Lawrence Santiago. "There's been massive recruitment of temporary workers from the Philippines in recent years."
While some employers have been pleased to sign up more foreign workers to meet what they maintain are labour shortages, the trend comes with controversy. Indeed, the debate over foreign workers has been bringing rare agreement among the political left and right.
Despite an economic downturn, the federal government has permitted the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada to swell from 160,000 in 2006 to 283,000 in 2010.
The largest ethnic group among this tide of oftengrateful short-term workers is Filipino.
However, economists and other scholars are pointing to at least two major problems with the government's welcoming attitude.
One dispute is over exploitation of often vulnerable shortterm foreign workers.
The second conflict centres on whether foreign workers are hurting productivity and keeping down wages of Canadians. The hot-button issue came to the fore in the televised leaders' debate before the May 2 federal election.
The decision by British Columbia's director of employment standards in May to fine a B.C. Denny's restaurant $6,755 for illegally firing a temporary worker from the Philippines, Alfredo Sales, became a news story in The Vancouver Sun.
But the Sales case is seen as just the tip of a crisis, since 50 foreign workers at Denny's have also filed a class-action suit and government agencies are hearing many reports about abuse of short-term workers, from nannies to construction labourers.
UBC's Santiago has received a $250,000 Trudeau Scholarship to study Filipino workers. Although he is focusing on the "highly pragmatic and resilient" women who work in seniors centres, he's painfully aware of stories like that of Sales, who was fired by Denny's six days after filing a complaint with the Employers Standard Branch over unpaid overtime wages and airfare.
Saying he's a social scientist not an economist, Santiago, who is one of the roughly 100,000 people of Filipino heritage in Metro Vancouver, declined to comment on whether the rising number of foreign workers is lowering Canadians' wages.
But there is no shortage of economists, scholars and former federal government officials -from both the left and right -who believe Canadian employees are being shortchanged by the inundation of short-term workers.
University of B.C. economist David Green says Canada has traditionally welcomed foreign workers to fill high-skill shortages. But he says there has recently been a fourfold jump in low-skill workers, including fast-food servers and security guards.
When many "firms claim there is a 'shortage' of workers, what is implicitly meant is that they cannot find workers at the wage they are offering," says Green, who is also a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.


Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Federal, Philippines, and National relevance