A decade ago I was effectively an itinerant farm worker in Australia. The Australian fruit and vegetable harvest industry relies heavily on a large army of 20-something year old international travellers on working holiday permits to pick and pack produce. Take away the backpackers and the fruit rots on the trees. I was able to save money and continue travelling around the world after I left Australia. With a few notable exceptions, my Australian employers paid me well and would sometimes even ask whether my colleagues and I were being paid enough to live on! Even the exceptions were still bound by law to pay me according to specific rates. While much of the work was piece-rate, the hourly wages were mandated at about $12/hr. It was really easy to save enough to hang out in Asia for months and months.
I came back to Canada and started working in our harvest industry thinking it would be a quick way to save some cash. No such luck here. Canadian farmers paid minimum wage and provided minimal facilities. I actually lost money working in a Canadian orchard and ended up living under a tarp. Canada now has an ever expanding guest worker program that allows them to pay their workers even less than Canadians.
It doesn't surprise me to read that the Vancouver Canada Line skytrain builders from Latin America were paid less than their European colleagues. It doesn't surprise me at all to read that lawyers for SNC Lavalin and Seli are arguing this is somehow fair despite a human rights ruling against them.
The Aussie ideal of the 'fair go' is missing in this country.
In graduate school, I found the faculties basically ignored the Collective Agreement covering how employed students were to be paid and their working conditions.
It's cultural, I think. Maybe a holdover from our European feudal origins, and its legacy of dehumanising the working classes. Maybe there's a subtle inheritance from the history of natural resource exploitation, the wealthy corporations that produced, and the willingness to build that wealth on the backs of the "other".
Whatever the case, there's a prickishness in this country that I sense is less visible elsewhere. Maybe that's why we need things like the Charter and Human Rights Tribunals. Maybe that's why Harper is so damned appealing to a third of the voting public.