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Wage Suppression Fever Spreads to Canada, Temp Workers Stuck at Minimum Wage

New data unearthed by the Alberta Federation of Labor (AFL) shows that the Canadian government, under the direction of Employment Minister Jason Kenney, is keeping wages artificially low by approving temporary work visas for foreign workers and paying them the minimum wage.  This practice goes against the government’s standards for such visas, which traditionally have paid the prevailing wage.  

According to the documents, obtained by the federation via Access to Information legislation, 15,006 employers were granted visas to bring in temporary foreign workers at the minimum wage in the past 18 months. AFL President Gil McGowan spoke with the Edmonton Journal:

“This is the latest example of how badly this program has gone off the rails,” he said. “The federal government should not be in the business of keeping wages low, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

The evidence from Statistics Canada and the government itself show that the so-called prevailing market wage in every occupation and every region of the country is actually higher than the minimum wage (for that province),” McGowan said. “So none of these applications should have been approved.

“The Harper government has allowed them to contravene the rules and is standing up for its friends in business.”

Details of the wage suppression, by industry, were discovered as well:

In Alberta, with Canada’s strongest economy, about 30 employers were approved to pay minimum wage ($9.95, the lowest in the country) to workers in places where higher hourly wages were required.

Farm workers were brought in at $5.74 per hour less than the prevailing wage of $15.69, while greenhouse workers were paid $2.05 per hour less than the required wage of $12.

The low wages are particularly disoncerting for Canadian workers who have been told time and again that a labor shortage is the root cause of temporary work visas being granted. But from a suppy-and-demand perspective, low wages are not in keeping with this tale:

“In this strong economy, and if there is a labour shortage, no one should be paid minimum wage,” McGowan said.

In Saskatchewan, 149 employers brought in minimum-wage workers and all but one contract was below the prevailing wage. Harvest workers were approved at $7.25 per hour below, janitors were $6.20 below and light duty cleaners were $4.57 below the prevailing wage.

The exact number of workers brought in under the applications is not known because a single application can involve dozens of workers.

In Alberta, about 85,000 employers have been approved to hire temporary foreign workers.

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