Reposted from: thestar.com article – Jim Flaherty’s dirty little job-training secret: Walkom by thomas Walkom
Canadian employers won’t bother training workers as long as they can import cheap temporary help from abroad.
The federal government says it is serious about job-training. It is not.
If it were, it would not make it so easy for business to hire cheap workers from abroad.
This is the dirty little secret about job-training in Canada. Employers don’t train workers because most don’t have to.
They expect government to train workers at public cost. And if that doesn’t work, businesses expect government to let them import from abroad workers who are already trained.
This is why employer organizations welcomed Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s announcement Thursday of a proposed wage subsidy scheme that would see governments provide business with up to $10,000 per worker for training.
This proposed Canada Job Grant requires provincial approval. (Quebec has already announced its opposition, so good luck there.)
And while Flaherty wants business to chip in $5,000 per worker as well, his scheme remains very much dependent on public largesse.
However, aside from a few vague mutterings, the Conservative government does not seem prepared to seriously scale back temporary worker programs that allow business to cherry-pick cheap labour from abroad.
If companies knew they couldn’t import, say, skilled pipefitters from Europe, they might put more effort into training domestic workers to meet their needs.
But employers know they don’t have to train. Instead, they need only wait until the last minute and then complain of labour shortages.
Over the last decade, as my friends at the Globe and Mail have reported, the number of temporary workers admitted to Canada has more than tripled, from 101,000 to 338,000.
This in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s.
Business insists that such workers are needed because skilled Canadians are unavailable. But far too often the real reason is that foreign workers are willing to work for less.
The Conservative government has codified this practice by permitting Canadian employers to pay their foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the going wage.
Indeed, the program for temporary foreign skilled workers has become a national joke. Alberta fast-food chains have famously used it to import skilled coffee pourers.
In British Columbia, one mining company received federal permission to import low-wage Chinese miners because it claimed that fluency in Mandarin was an essential skill.
To his credit, Flaherty has pledged to block that particular loophole. His budget would forbid fluency in any language other than English and French to be used as a job requirement by companies applying to hire temporary foreign workers.
But the Conservatives still insist that importing cheap foreign labour is a necessity if the needs of business (or, as they call it, the economy) are to be served.
In this, they are very much in the Canadian tradition. Training and immigration are inexorably linked in this country. Throughout its history, Canada has always looked to immigrants to solve its economic problems.
In the late 19th century, Eastern European immigrants to the Prairies provided business for the railways and a market for Ontario manufacturers.
Those same manufacturers employed skilled British artisans to staff their factories.
After 1945, immigrants from countries like Italy and Portugal provided labour for the post-war boom.
But at least all of these were real immigrants, who were offered citizenship and a permanent home in a new land.
Now we want immigrants who will do their jobs for a while and then quietly go away.
We import cheap temporary workers to pick crops and cheap temporary nannies to look after kids.
We import cheap temporary plumbers and cheap temporary welders. And then we wonder why firms don’t bother training Canadians to do those skilled jobs.
Why should they? It’s cheaper to bring in temporary workers from abroad. That’s the real training story.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.