Is there a glut of low-skilled workers in Canada?

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Pradip Rodrigues

Late last week the Liberal government announced two new five-year initiatives that will see caregivers bringing their family members with them on arrival. No longer will they have to and wait for years to sponsor them. They will have an occupation-specific work permit for two years after which they can then have a direct pathway to permanent residency and will be able to change employers easily.

There is no doubt that thousands of Canadian families are in dire need of caregivers to tend to the needs of their infirmed family members or young children. Given how meagre the salaries are by Canadian standards, there is a need to import caregivers for minimum wage from third world countries.

I am willing to bet that most caregivers quit the line as soon as they acquire permanent residency and am willing to wager that the same will happen after two years when caregivers coming under the new program no longer have to work in the same field. That is understandable. After all, who would like to be working for low wages without medical and other benefits?

One caregiver who worked for a Mississauga family promptly announced she was leaving her job the day she acquired permanent status. She soon started a new job at a warehouse and moved in with a friend until her husband and two children joined her . The husband also found work at another warehouse.

Better skilled caregivers who get permanent residency also end up pursuing more lucrative jobs in the general job market or get into nursing.

So, there will always be a shortage of caregivers because the attrition rate is high and dependent on how soon they can legally change jobs and fields.

Full time caregiver salary in Canada is usually under $30K, so how could any principal applicant afford to be a caregiver after he or she becomes a permanent resident? In fact, their families are helped more by the wages they send back home given the exchange rate.

This program doesn’t address the need for caregivers because there is no incentive for those coming in under the program to stick with caregiving. If it did, the issue would be addressed and there would not be a need to keep bringing in more and more caregivers to replace the ones who opt out of the field of caregiving.

Canada is currently facing a skilled worker shortage. Last year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that nearly 47 per cent of small and mid-sized businesses were being held back by a lack of skilled labour. Professionals coming in under these categories are actually addressing the shortage because they end up working in the same field for the remainder of their professional lives.

When it comes to general labor or jobs that don’t require a high skill level, the field is crowded and caregivers along with their spouses and foreign students end up seeking jobs in the general category.

This can and has created resentment among many young Canadian-born students and new immigrants who vie for such jobs.

The Times of India last year carried a story with this headline: Indo-Canadians say international students ‘stealing their jobs’.

The general labour category is highly competitive as a result of so many spouses of principal applicants and the huge number of foreign students mostly from India.

If caregivers and their spouses end up competing for general labour jobs or those requiring few skills, the government is neither addressing the issue of real skilled labour shortage and the perennial shortage of caregivers and is instead exacerbating the glut of people seeking general jobs.

This is actually driving down the incentive for employers to pay good wages and ends up hurting those living on or below the poverty line.

The caregiver category helps well-to-do Canadian families access cheap labour for an average of two years. Middle-class and poorer Canadian families cannot dream of getting caregivers to take care of their infirmed family members or very young children. Naturally if an earning member makes $30K he or she is condemned to be defacto caregiver. This is ending up becoming a government-subsidized program for the rich if one takes into account that in order to fill in one caregiver position, the government has to bring in the spouse and provide health care and education for the caregiver’s children. Wouldn’t it be better if the government created a program to encourage more new immigrant women who need jobs to get trained in caregiving and provide income supplements and other benefits for them? They could end up helping Canadians who need caregivers and also create employment.

Caregivers who seek employment in Middle-Eastern countries don’t expect permanent residency leave alone bringing their families with them. But caregivers seeking employment in Canadian homes fully expect it to lead to permanent residency and Canadian citizenship for them and their families. If the principle applicant and the spouse earn such low wages, there is a good chance of them living on or below the poverty line, especially if they have children. At the end of the day, the rich Canadian gets the caregiver he or she needs paid for indirectly by taxpayers.

And now that there is a pilot program in place for caregivers, it won’t be long before there is a clamour to create a similar program for seasonal agricultural workers.

The government has so far resisted the calls because once a seasonal agricultural worker becomes a permanent resident, it is highly unlikely he or she will be picking strawberries and mushrooms but will end up working in factory warehouses.

Meanwhile foreign students most of whom are here for immigration purposes are often more committed to general labour rather than studying. It is a known fact that many of these students who’ve come to study accounting or English or law will end up as truck drivers, general labourers, real estate agents and maybe some will drift into politics.

The truth is that none of these programs really address the real issues but will end up creating more problems than it solves down the road. -CINEWS

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