Note: In this paper I will use the terms male/man and female/women to reference perceived sex/gender congruency within the aspects of historical and current common and academic subscription to binary language that otherwise fails to acknowledge gender variance, intersex persons, and sex/gender diversity in their discourses.
Neo-liberal political and economic ideologies regulate industries, increase economic integration and have become increasingly transnational, which has contributed to Western cultural diffusion. Relaxed regulations and reduced state participation has increased the expansion of businesses across borders as well as exploited and created inequalities among people based on ethnicity, gender, and race. As poverty has increased migrations have increased. Capitalism shifts the responsibility of wealth and well being to the individual, which distracts capitalist western societies from recognizing the often violent and destructive processes of a system that relies on inequalities and human suffering. Human populations are categorized geographically and ethnically, across gender, race, and class. The United Nations and other Global organizations have helped nations in building policies that, at least on paper, foster equitable treatment of migrating bodies between nations. Often however these policies fail to become practice or they are circumvented by complex legal instruments and agreements between nations. The abolishment of slavery in the Western world only happened on paper, it has and still is in common practice today, it is simply covert or disguised as necessary and valuable labour practices that are of benefit to its participants.
Canada has over its history as a nation employed slave labour in various forms in Canada building efforts and to fulfill market needs. Migration patterns and immigration practices are deeply gendered. Post World War II women nurses from the Caribbean migrated to Canada under temporary conditions to provide cheap nursing, Mexican men have been coming to Canada for more than two decades as temporary farm labour, these are examples of the systemic exploitation of people that the Canadian Immigration system will never allow to have access to citizenship, or the same rights extended to persons legally living here in permanence. This paper will explore the history of migrant labour in Canada, and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as being late modern slavery of migrant labour across gender and race that represents social problems. The social problem is not the migration of labour rather Canada’s continuing colonial attitudes exploiting gendered migrants.
Historically Canada has used migrants as cheap labour in the enterprise of colonialism and the establishment of the territories that geographically represent Canada today. The era of the steam engine saw the development of rail systems across North America. These rail systems were more than just methods of transport for people and goods, they were used to establish claim to lands and territories, to bridge communities, stimulate economic growth, and as political tools. The Canadian Pacific Railway would not have been possible if not for the thousands of Chinese migrants that performed the dangerous and back-breaking labour necessary to run across the plains and traverse mountains and valleys.
The high demand for cheap Chinese labour in the latter half of the 19th century coincided with the invasion of Western powers into China resulting in diaspora of impoverished Chinese peoples. Canada exploited the migration of Chinese peoples, but only male/men. Canada’s racist ideologies supported the exploitation of the inferior Chinese male/men but needed to prevent their availability to reproduce while in Canada because Canada did not want to pollute the population with racial impurities. Therefore immigration policies severely limited the entrance of Asian female/women into Canada. There were also strict anti-miscegenation laws as well to prevent exogamous relationships between racialized peoples.
The wives and children of the Chinese male/men who came to Canada to improve the lives of their families often never made it back to their homes. The female/women left behind in China due to sex/gender discrimination laws in Canada, and other countries, created great hardships as China went through economic instability and social change in the late 19th century. Female/women in China were faced with supporting themselves and their children, however this was a difficult task as female/women suffered crushing oppression that severely limited their ability to cope without their husbands. The ethnically Chinese female/women who did enter Canada during the mid to late 19th century suffered as well. In part they were fetishized as ultra-feminine in their decorative clothing, small feet, and were viewed by Western male/men as extremely submissive. These women were heavily discriminated against as the white settlers who also viewed these female/women as the bodies that could produce more generations of inferior Chinese peoples whom “the Prime Minister of Canada [John A. MacDonald] is quoted as referring to the Chinese as ‘an alien race in every sense that would not and could not be expected to assimilate with our Arian population’(Berton. 1971: 195)”(Baureiss. 1987).
The male/men who migrated to Canada seeking to improve their lives and the lives of their families were no better off. The Chinese workers were given the most dangerous jobs, were paid the lowest wages comparatively to white labourers, and were faced with constant discrimination, racial slurs, and harassment as well as segregation from non-Chinese residences and businesses. It is estimated that for every mile of track one Chinese labourer died. The irony is that the Chinese labourers were performing the most dangerous and arduous tasks that are generally associated with hyper-masculinity not reflected in the Canadian stereo-type of the small, inadequate, desexualized Chinese male/man. The exploitation of Chinese male/men extended beyond their physical labourer as “they were forced to pay numerous expenses, including clothing, room rent, tools, fares, revenue and road taxes, religious fees, doctors’ bills and the cost of drugs”(Lee 1994) leaving them very little to send home to their families. The low pay and expenses also left these workers unable to afford the return trip back to China and were left stranded in a racist country where they lived the remainder of their lives alone and often in poverty.
Immediately after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway the need for Chinese male/men labourers declined and the immigration laws adapted to quell the migration of Chinese workers. Initially the Canadian government installed a head tax that did not seem to prevent Chinese male/men wanting access to Canada and in 1923 the government responded with more strict measures, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred entry into Canada to all ethnic Chinese persons.
“In 1947, 95% of [Chinese persons]were older males”(Gunter 1987). Statistics show that the immigration devices that discriminated sex and gender in Chinese migration to Canada in the 19th and early 20th century along with the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’ had the desired affect of preventing the growth of the ethnic Chinese population in white settler Canada. The disproportionate male/man Chinese population of the mid-20th century was aged and isolated. In the 1960′s the immigration laws changed and “by 1981, the sex-ratio equalized”(Baureiss1987). Although female/women and families had now entered Canada and families had been partially reunited there were still cleavages along gender coupled with the persisting racialization of Chinese, who would never be considered Canadian by the white population.
Female/women perceived or legitimately Chinese in the post 1967 introduction of the point system of immigration in Canada were heavily oppressed in Canada and within their own ethnic communities. Female/women migrating from China who were highly educated often entered Canada not as skilled workers but rather as dependants to their husbands or under the immigration family class status. “Hence the immigration processes reproduce and structure inequality within in the family by rendering one spouse (typically the wife) legally dependent on the other”(Ng, 1993). The institutionalized racist and sexist practices female/women from China, and women of colour as well, experienced migrating to Canada in the late 20th century were devalued and diverted into unstable wage labour positions and forced to be dependent upon men or family members.
The history of Chinese immigration and labour market patterns in Canada in considering gendered immigration policies serves as an example of institutionalized sexism and racism as well as a template of the current practices of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program fluctuates based on employer needs, and race, gender, and nationalities are determining factors in who is able to apply and participate in the program. There are clear gendered divisions in the work performed by imported labourers as well. Male/men are primarily engaged in agricultural and mining labour wheres female/women are typically streamed into live-in care giving positions and domestic work. “Intersections of three key axes of labour market division: gender, race and immigrant status”(Fuller, S., & Vosko, L. F. 2008). The ways in which gender is divided in the migrant labour markets shows that gendered markets are still functioning despite assurances from various sectors of Western society that equity has diminished gender barriers.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is importing cheap exploitable labour for industries that can not be relocated abroad to take advantage of workers within their indigenous communities. For example, a mine in Northern British Columbia lacks the mobility to gain from global labour markets, and Canada, despite its multicultural world image, historically and presently buffers the Canadian citizenship in the interests of the hegemony of whiteness thusly creating precarious labour markets intended for immigrants and people of colour who will work cheaply without the workplace safety policies, unions, and labour rights. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has no limits and it is at the discretion of Immigration Canada. Since the year 2000 Canada has seen large intakes of temporary workers “from 110,476 in 2003, to reach 201,057 in 2007”(Byl. 2010) contrasted to the 131,248 people who entered under the Economic Class for permanent residence in 2007. The relaxed rules and procedures for admitting temporary workers is also cause for concern as the promise of possible permanent residence, money, contractual completion bonuses, or immediate termination with subsequent deportation often prevents immigrants from reporting unsafe conditions, exploitation, extortion, sexual assault, abuse, and conflicts with employers, supervisors, managers, Canadian co-workers, and immigrant or other temporary workers coupled with the lack of resources made available to temporary workers causes gender differences and suffering.
When considering the gendering of imported labour female/women have been typically employed in domestic work and as live-in caregivers. Live-in caregivers are told that they will be able to apply for permanent residence after 24 months of employment occurring within the last 48 months. The policies are in favour of employers and exposes workers to precarious work, and living, environments and “a gendered analysis of the program shows that the women who come to Canada as caregivers continue to face vulnerability and exploitation because of key structures of the program, most importantly the live-in requirement”(Brickner, R. K., & Straehle, C. 2010). The live-in requirement gives the employer 24-hour access to their employees and allows employers to potentially exploit employees, having them work extra unpaid hours or perform unrelated tasks such as pet care and other duties, “This is exacerbated when living-in blurs the caregivers’ status, leading some employers to think of them as family who want to work, rather than employees with set hours (Pratt, 2004 , pp. 99–100)”(Brickner, R. K., & Straehle, C. 2010). As well there is no governing body that examines the living conditions that the employers provide, meaning the employees live-in conditions may be sub-standard in Canadian contexts. There is also no option to live apart from the employer and place of work. The visa for the employee is tied directly to the employer, not the caregiver, and according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada the employer may also charge for meal and rent. For instance, in British Columbia the employer may collect up to, but “no more than $325/month for room and board”(Government of Canada. 2013).
However, there is an advantage to the Live-in Caregiver Program comparatively to agricultural, mining, and other Temporary Foreign Worker Programs that are mostly dominated by male/men because “the LCP is the only federal and one of the few international programs for ‘‘low -skilled’’ TFWs that offers an explicit path to permanent residency and citizenship”(Brickner, R. K., & Straehle, C. 2010). There are many who take advantage of this feature in the program, however, it is a feature that puts the employees in more vulnerable positions due to their willingness to complete their work periods to fulfill permanent resident application requirements without incident.
The other low-skilled temporary labour field is agricultural and it is disproportionately minority male/men who occupy these positions in Canada(figure 1). Similar to the Live-in Caregiver Program the employees “face significant impediments to labour market and social integration, including work permits that are tied to employers, weak enforcement of contracts, language barriers and social isolation, especially for the large share of these workers who live in employer-provided housing”(Hennebry. 2012). The need for workers in Canada’s agricultural sector has risen in the last decade with increased production of feed for food-animal crops and intensive agriculture.
As with the other Temporary Foreign Worker programs workers enter Canada and work the duration of their contract without their families isolating people from their support networks. Since most of the agricultural labour migrants are male/men this not only deprives families of their fathers and husbands but also stresses families. The stress put on families is due to the absence of the male/men who, in a patriarchal society, are instrumental in the functional capabilities of the family. As shown with the migrant Chinese workers of the late 19th century, the women and children left behind generally suffer. The female/women who are wives and mothers to migrant male/men live like single mothers for the duration of their husband’s contracts disrupting the family unit.
The agricultural workers also have additional expenses, sometimes before coming to Canada to work such as paying recruiters, purchasing appropriate work gear, and more.Although these expenses are not endorsed by Human Resources and Development Canada, they are not strictly monitored either, especially in foreign lands. As Byl explains,
They were often promised that they would be able to immigrate to Canada. As well, these people typically paid for all of their own expenses. In many cases, they came to Canada only to find that there were no jobs and absolutely no support system for them, resulting in some TFWs being caught in the nightmare of having to work illegally simply to survive. Some were deported as a result. People often spent their life savings to get to Canada. Some borrowed money to pay the recruiters and needed to repay those recruiters and lending institutions money, even in cases where they were laid off upon arrival in Canada. It should be pointed out that in some countries, people can still go to jail for civil debts, and the Government of Canada failed to do anything to assist these people and to eliminate the abuse(Byl. 2010).
The regulations that could be implemented to monitor TFWP are at the discretion of the province, Manitoba is the only province to monitor employers of temporary foreign workers. This is interesting as Manitoba only had 65 temporary foreign workers in 2009, contrasted to the 16,785 temporary workers employed in Ontario in the same year(HRSDC 2009; Byl. 2010).
Canada has an increased dependency on temporary foreign labour that relies on gendered migration funnelling male/men disproportionately into hazardous and labourious positions and female/women into feminized domestic work, and a majority of all temporary foreign workers are also visible minorities increasing their social jeopardy as well as decreasing the likelihood of their approval to enter Canada as a future permanent residents in Canada where the hegemony is white. Despite multicultural programs and policies Canada still seems to protect Canadian culture as being anglo and white and to a lesser degree French and white.
Most of the discourses on migrant labour reflect upon the employment capacities and recruitment of Canadian citizens. It is not that Canadians are incapable of performing the work that migrant labour performs, neither is it an issue of training as most migrant labour positions do not require high-skill, nor is it a lack of available Canadian labourers; the fact is that positions awarded to migrant labourers are paid poorly and hide in the shadows of employment standards and safety. However, many of the studies discuss Canadian labour as a homogenous group and fails to make distinctions about the diverse social groups in Canada, especially Aboriginal peoples. Canada has systemically racialized and marginalized aboriginals and the labour practices in Canada, informed by stereo-types, has devalued the availability of aboriginal labour across all genders.
Canada’s labour markets are heavily gendered and racialized. Male/men of various minority and immigration statuses are directed, through covert mechanisms, devalued educational credentials, and discrimination into positions that are often hazardous, low paying, and prevent vertical mobility. While female/women are diverted into feminized sectors such as nursing and caregiving. Canada fails to approach immigration policy and programs with a gendered lens thereby increasing the vulnerability of male/men and female/women entering Canada as temporary workers who are obviously divided along gender. Canada is complicit in practices contrary to constitutional ideologies that historically and presently exploit people based on race, gender, and class.
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