Get Off My Lawn

I can't tell if he's laughing or crying.

Temporary Foreign Workers: A Tale of Two Countries

In many ways Alberta is a land of plenty, with a strong economy, a decent standard of living, and jobs, jobs, jobs. In fact, when oil prices are high or demand is increased, the Alberta oil sands increase production and expand their operations. This has an effect on the work force in Alberta in that we often end up with far more jobs than there are people to fill them. Positions can sometimes go unfilled for extended lengths of time, which is not great, but then wages can go up considerably as the market scarcity demands, and this is good.

A few years ago we had one of the biggest labour shortages in quite some time. Many people, including me, had their workload increased, but I also received three pay raises in one year. Woohoo. I work in a group home. I am a front-line staff person. I love my job. I love my employer. They are excellent and have given me some fantastic opportunities and regularly demonstrate that they value me as an employee, and I do my best to warrant this attitude. But I was uneasy when my employer decided to bring in workers from the Philippines.

This could have not worked out much better from my perspective. It was so refreshing to work with a group of people who were generally happy, enjoyed working, and were grateful for the opportunity they were given. One thing that has driven me crazy is that my Canadian co-workers, of all ages and genders, use their sick days as spontaneous vacation days. You know the type: They are afflicted with the strangest ailment that causes them to be debilitated EVERY Monday and/or Friday. The supervisor knows they are not really sick. I, as a co-worker, know they are not sick, but to make an accusation would be impolite, or at the very least contribute to a nasty confrontation. But at times the temptation to say, “Are you fucking kidding me? You are sick again? And on a Friday? You mean to tell me you have an illness that visits you only on Mondays and Fridays? And it makes you so goddamn sick you can’t get to work? You are lying. You are not sick. You are lazy and have shitty standards of conduct.”

Oh, hey boss. Yeah, cough, cough, really sick again. And on a Friday! Go figure. Okay, well I won't be in today. Have a great weekend.

Oh, hey boss. Yeah, cough, cough, really sick again. And on a Friday! Go figure. Okay, well I won’t be in today. Have a great weekend.


The Filipino workers I have spent time with do not do this. They use sick days for when they are sick (wow, what a concept); in effect they are honest. I cannot emphasize enough how much more pleasant it is to work as a member of a team where everyone is happy to be there, grateful for a job, and wants to give their best. It is to the point now where, when a new staff is hired, I ask whether the person is Canadian or Filipino.  And I gauge my expectations according to the answer.

Laziness is also an issue, but I’ll leave it at that before I end up making this post more manifesto than observation piece.

And don’t even get me started on the young, green worker who comes in and expects to start at the top because, well, mommy and daddy told me I was number one so starting anywhere else would be harmful to my self-esteem. Not true to myself. So, if you don’t mind, though I’ve only been here five minutes, I’ll just start delegating and directing. And please remember to tell me how awesome I am for no other reason than just being me. (I will delve further into this type in a future post).

Yeah, John, I'm going to need you change my diaper but please remember to mention loud enough for everyone to hear that my poop smells like laundry detergent. Okay?

Yeah, John, I’m going to need you to change my diaper but please remember to mention loud enough for everyone to hear that my poop smells like laundry detergent. Okay?

But please don’t think I have some romantic vision of all foreign workers. Before I worked with anyone from the Philippines, I had some really bad experiences with workers who came to Canada and hated it. One Serbian woman I worked with would regularly tell me Canada is shitty because we have no sense of community. We don’t drink in pubs as much as we should. And we have to pay for everything. Huh? And most of all Canada could really benefit from having a dictator like Tito. She really missed Tito. She would get a far-off, whimsical look on her face every time she talked about her country’s horrible, Soviet-puppet oppressor. For the record I don’t think Canada should get a dictator. Unless it’s me. Then, maybe it’s not such a terrible idea.

tito 2

Another co-worker from Portugal regularly ranted that Canada had too many single mothers who were promiscuous and lazy, gobbling up welfare, and not going to church. And divorce was too easy. Huh? On the list of problems Canada has this would be down around, ohhh, non-existent. Her rants were always about divorce, and how easy it was in Canada to get one, and everyone is screwing everyone all the time. Whoa, at the time I was single and would have loved to find the Canada she was talking about.

Canadians are a bunch of little fornicators who love Satan.

Canadians are a bunch of little fornicators who love Satan.

So it was refreshing to work, and become friends with, people who come to your house and DO NOT loudly explain to you that the furniture is ugly, you paid too much for property, the food is crappy, and your dog is ugly. It is with great pleasure that many of the Filipinos I have worked with have stayed on permanently, and become Canadian citizens. I love working with people who are happy, industrious, and self motivated, and don’t feel the employer, the country, or anyone else owes them something.

So it was with great interest that I read that the government is investigating a gaggle of McDonald franchises for granting preferential treatment to Filipino workers over Canadian workers–the biggest complaint being that because Filipino workers are flexible, are willing to do what is asked, and are amazing workers, they were given preferential shifts and pay. To me this sounds like Canada at its best. Hard work, consistency, and diligence pays off. Not skin colour, but actions, are the determining factor for success.

My only concern would be that McDonalds does not take advantage of the foreign workers and ask them to work in conditions that go against labour laws. But I guess this is what the investigation will determine. I can only speak here to my own experience and can tell you as a front line worker it is incredible to be with people who want to work. And who take pride in what they do. And if I was a supervisor, I’d be scrambling to get as many Filipino workers as I am possibly allowed to have.

Do you want fries with that?

Do you want fries with that?

I do just need to say that I understand that my evidence is anecdotal and my conclusions are less than comprehensive, but this is my blog, and I really only desire to write my own experience. But I do appreciate that what I have observed over 15 years, and where I have observed it, is just a small, small slice of a bigger pie.



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7 replies

  1. Wow. Brave post. This is true in so many different industries. I suspect also in many countries. I think it’s because Migrants appreciate the opportunities they have been given in life in the new country a lot more. They embrace every chance at a better life for themselves and their children. When you have had a hard life, you understand the value of hard work. I am a first generation child migrant. An ethnic minority. I washed dishes from the age of 10 after school and on weekends in my parents’ cafe when we first arrived. Mum used to say I did it better than the 30 year old kitchen hand they had during the week. I think a lot of people living in affluent countries take everything in life for granted. Those who look outside their own lives see how lucky they are. My motto: life could be worse! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. Some of my Filipino co-workers read this post and really loved it. They deserve a lot of credit. It sounds like you learned the value of hard work and, of course, to do what you do would require a ton of hard work to get there and stay there. I had to develop my work ethic from scratch, and on my own, as my parents were not exactly industrious (to put it mildly). I plan on writing more about this topic. And thanks again, I really appreciate the feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspect there’s truth to what you say. Those who most appreciate their job are those most likely to have the strongest work ethic. Not always, of course, but it makes sense. I rarely called in sick–I just didn’t have the type of job where that was feasible.

    That’s cool you work in a group home and enjoy it so much. I’ve heard the burnout and turnover rates can be high in that type of position.


    • It is. But I am fortuneate enough to work with a with individuals that are pretty high functioning and on most days my job is more fun than work. Other areas of the organization I work though are really high stress and can have a high burnout rate.


  3. Very nice post. There are so many things bound up in the temporary worker policy. What worries me most is how these current happenings are impacting the workers that are here. I hope people remember that they just took a job we offered them.


    • Thank you for stopping by. I’m not sure if I understand you correctly but I have two concerns:
      1) Companies will take advantage of these workers, skirting labour laws, and asking the workers to do questionable things knowing that desperation and fear will cause the worker to say yes and keep quiet. Since I wrote this post it has come out that a McDonalds here in Edmonton has been coercing the foreign workers to live in housing provided by the company. While this is not illegal it is shady as hell because McDonalds is charging a hefty sum and the place is long way from the restaurant. Let them live where they want. This is Canada.

      2) Canadians feeling as though they are being treated less then what should be accepted because now foreign workers are here and will get preferential treatment because they are much more inclined to say “yes boss.” In Alberta, Edmonton specifically, I see this problem as anecdotal simply because there are jobs everywhere. Jobs are falling off the trees. If this tide turns and the economy stalls then we will see heightened tensions, racism, and a call for foreign workers to go home. But until then we are still barely keeping positions filled and this is good for everyone.


      • I agree with you on both. Suppose I said “so many things bound up” so I didn’t get into rant. My main concern is that it is a bad policy attached to an unbalanced approach to training, skills and employment that is taken by our governments. No one questions as they are being introduced. All we have to do is look at other countries experiences with immigrant labour.


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