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Red Deer Advocate - Opinion
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What labour crisis?


In the past four months, I’ve replied for two jobs ads posted on Kijiji. They were for semi-skilled work (assembling bikes), part time, for relatively low pay.

A good match for an older guy who likes to work on bikes, who’s looking to make a few bucks while keeping busy.

No response. Zilch. Therefore, were I to rely on the data available to me, I’d have to say there are no such jobs available here.

What I am doing is just an extreme version of what the federal government is doing with its apprehended labour shortage crisis and its temporary foreign workers program.

My job search is far from thorough. I can live with that.

But neither is the research being done by government. And that is costing Canada a lot, in funding wasted on programs that may not be needed, in creating expectations based on conditions that do not exist, and even in harming our international reputation as a caring, humane employer.

Instead of assigning their statistics professionals to the task, the feds outsourced data mining to a group called Wanted Analytics, which uses software to scan online classified ad sites, to see how job opportunities meet the number of people looking for work.

In essence, they did what I did.

Their reports suggest that instead of there being an unemployment problem, Canada has a job vacancy rate of four per cent.

Based on that, the government developed policies in its recent budget to boost the match between these tens of thousands of unmet jobs and people who need work. A big part of that was a boost to education and training for aboriginals and a boost to employing temporary foreign workers.

But as we have seen, the training policies for first nations isn’t being very well received right now. And the TFW program is getting an awful lot of bad publicity.

Over the weekend, yet another serious abuse of the TFW program was brought to light by CBC News, who reported that a numbered company in B.C. was keeping foreign workers in slave-like conditions.

The workers in some cases were paid well below minimum wage, for 12-hour shifts, if they were paid at all. Cash fines were set up for imaginary offences, like checking one’s cell phone, or talking to co-workers.

The result was that workers sometimes ended up owing money to their employer — which meets the definition of slavery. The employers’ actions and their apparent misuse of the government’s TFW program also meets the definition of human trafficking.

The important job that could not find Canadian workers? Selling phony energy wrist bands from a mall kiosk — on commission, minus living expenses, minus all the fines the employer could dream up. Not exactly the $13 an hour promised. Not a chance to build a new life in Canada.

Facing physical threats and deportation, including threats to his life if he did so, one worker went public to CBC. The company is still in business, and the government has not lifted its TFW licence.

All based, as is coming to light, on faulty data.

Research from more credible sources than trawls of online want ads is showing there is no labor crisis in Canada.

There are indeed shortages of workers with specific skills in specific regions, such as in Alberta and Saskatchewan’s oil patch. But nothing to justify a TFW bolus of transient and vulnerable workers.

Studies by TD Bank and Statistics Canada, backed up by research from both the University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge suggest Canada is actually doing OK in balancing workers with jobs.

Dire crises in some sectors were based on assumptions that project, for instance, that Canada will be short 25,000 truck drivers in six years. Really?

Other phenomena have not been accounted for, like the high participation rate of older workers, and the rise of part-time work among boomers who haven’t been retiring according to accepted projections.

Neither has the supply/demand ratio been fully factored for labour. Industry CEOs made million-dollar bonuses in the past decade by laying people off, freezing wages and getting efficient.

It’s not easy for huge conglomerates to change gears, and (just a suggestion) increase wages, when labour is short.

Business has the ear of government, much more so than labour. Government listens to the lowest-cost bidder on an IT contract, instead of its own professionals.

Perhaps government has not been asking the right questions, has not been getting accurate data, and is reaping the fruit of policies based more on ideology than the facts on the ground.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

 
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