Neoliberalism and its impact on the standard employment relationship; Migrant labor issues in Canada
Posted on May 19th, 2017

By Lalindra Shashike Jayatunge     

Given the recent expansions in trade both in terms of increased trade liberalizations and the reach of local markets being expanded by a globalized world order, people have increasingly been given the economic incentive to mobilize their labor to jurisdictions that value their labor the most. In Canada, many migrant workers who arrived through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program have voiced grievances ranging from employers failing to provide safety equipment to denying overtime pay. Live-in caregivers have been subject to sub-par living accommodations and this issue of the precarious nature of migrant employment is significant given that more people are admitted to the labor force through Temporary Employment Authorizations than through permanent residency (238,093 and 235,708 respectively).

The neoliberal response to this influx of migrant labor has caused a policy shift on the Standard Employment relationship which in turn has created the legislative conditions for businesses to depend on precariously employed labor. The implication of this is a sharp increase in Non-Standard Employment Relationships (NSER’s) and the establishment of a multi-tier welfare state. These migrant workers share a grossly asymmetric relationship with their employers since they are tied to a single employer by means of labor permits and immigration status which not only give employers the unilateral power to hire and fire at will but also quells any form of opposition on part of the workers regarding unfair treatment (Choudry& Smith 5). The legislative support for the current state of the migrant employment situation is upheld by Bill 7,49 and 149 of the Employment Standards Act. Bill 7 marked the end of the Employee Wage Protection Program by imposing a wage freeze and the later Bill 49 imposed limitations on the time-frame for registering complaints and capped maximum monetary compensation (Thomas 76). Bill 149 allowed temporary worker agencies to avoid legal culpability for violating employment standards as well (Thomas 81).Under the Employment Standards Actmigrant farmworkers are exempt from protections regulating all rest and eating periods (including daily and weekly rest periods) as well as overtime pay and public holidays. Harvesters are given the same exemptions with the addition of being covered under minimum wage provisions and vacation pay (Thomas 28).

An issue of fairness arises when migrant worker programs are viewed in the light of a neoliberal policy aimed to combat outsourcing by allowing businesses to procure cheap labor locally. Consider that when firms engage in regulatory arbitrage and outsource production to locales that feature lax environmental and/or labor standards, they are not directly penalized as capital leaves Canada and moves to say, India. Yet, people that arrive in Canada seeking employment are not extended the same employment standards and entitlements because the neoliberally motivated state recognizes that the standard employment relationship is not feasible to be extended to migrant workers. Privatization and the assimilation of labor relations to be more flexible and thus ultimately more profitable has been instrumental in the neoliberal expansion of the market. This makes the migrant worker’s already difficult adjustment to a new country and employment condition that much more precarious and in some instances, dangerous.

It is clear that employers are conferred a great deal of power over these migrant workers which allow employers to define the most fundamental working conditions such as wages, working hours and job duties. This has allowed employers to acquiesce these migrant workers through subcontracting, threat of dismissal/delay and deportation (Koo & Hanley 40). Workers who are under these conditions would rather bear the abuse and precarious nature of their employment than be unemployed and facedeportation.

Therefore, I suggest the establishment of a non-profit NGO for this multifaceted problem. By establishing an ad-hoc labor communion by means of an NGO it would not only be able to monitor these migrant workers on a case by case basis but also gain enough leverage by unifying these widely dispersed persons to equalize the asymmetric relationship they share with their respective employers. These migrant workers already pay taxes for employment insurance and healthcare which they are not eligible for, and although it is a considerable barrier- with enough support this proposed NGO would be able to divert some of that revenue the government receives to fund their operations. That is an overly hopeful prospect, but I believe it is possible if enough salience is drawn to this issue.


Works Cited

Thomas, Mark. Neoliberalism, Racialization and the Regulation of Employment Standards.” Neoliberalism and Everyday Life (2010). McGill-Queen’s University Press. Web

Koo, Jah-Hon, Thomas Smith &Jill Hanley. Unfree labour?: struggles of migrant and immigrant workers in Canada. Ed. Aziz Choudry and Adrian A. Smith. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016. Print.


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