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Conditions of Worth: The Experiences of Temporary Foreign Workers

Luigi Pasto | Canada

International trade in goods and people, Port of Montreal, November 2013.

This series of photographs documents the lives of temporary foreign workers in Quebec. Most of these workers come from Central America, Africa, and South East Asia. They work during periods ranging from 4 to 10 months, after which they are sent home where they anxiously await an invitation to return. The health and welfare of their families often depend on the income they obtain in Canada. While in Canada, they volunteer their time to non-profit community organizations that advocate for the rights of temporary foreign workers, they lobby government officials for increases in the minimum wage, and they join the struggle of other workers seeking broader labour reforms. Each, in their own way, is an engaged citizen committed to their shared struggles in Canada, and to their adopted communities. These pictures reflect some of their experiences, contributions, and struggles.

Temporary foreign workers enter Canada on time-limited work permits. They are classified as “lower skilled” and precluded from permanent residency. In 2006, the number of temporary worker entering Canada exceeded the number entering with permanent residency status. This gap has steadily widened. In 2011, temporary workers accounted for 55% of all new arrivals to Canada. This trend has been primarily employer driven.

The predominant political and economic narrative depicts temporary labour migration as a win-win scenario. Employers benefit by accessing a flexible workforce, enabling them to adapt to local labour shortages. Migrant workers, are presumed to benefit from access to greater incomes than would be available to them in their own country. This discourse is supported by the assumption that migrant workers have the same workplace rights as local workers.

This narrative is contested by the individual experiences of migrant workers in Canada, who exist in a precarious space. These workers have fewer “effective” rights than other workers, and are vulnerable to exploitation by employers. They are both socially and economically marginalized, and to the majority of Canadians effectively invisible.

web: www.luigipasto.com

email: luigi@luigipasto.com

telephone: 1-514-834-0555 (from North America)

mail: Psychology Department, John Abbott College, 21 275 Lakeshore Road, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Québec, H9X 3L9, Canada


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