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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Behind the counter : migration, labour policy and temporary work in a global fast food chain Polanco Sorto, Aida Geraldina


This dissertation explores the shift from local to global recruitment practices in western Canada’s low-waged service sector, with fast food and Tim Hortons serving as the industry and case study for this project. By examining the recent expansion to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, I show how a market-driven immigration program is resulting in new flows of workers entering Canada for low-waged occupations like fast food service. These workers are primarily young, educated, eager and able-bodied male and female migrant workers recruited disproportionately from the Philippines. They are new in the sense that they are part of a highly qualified flow of migrants who no longer have the opportunity to permanently immigrate and become full members of the Canadian polity. They enter Canada in pursuit of the classical immigrant dream only to discover that the context of reception has changed. They are recruited through a labour migration program that offers migrants few if any opportunities to transition from temporary to permanent residency status, and one that encourages migrants to compete for permanent residency within the worksite, at improbable odds. This study draws from 62 semi-structured interviews, ethnographic field research conducted in Canada and the Philippines, and freedom of information data gathered on Tim Hortons’ recruitment practices of migrant workers in Alberta and British Columbia. I show how: the tourism and hospitality industry was instrumental for institutionalizing an employer-friendly market driven immigration program; how the Filipino migration apparatus seeks to deliver culturally appropriate workers to foreign employers; how the turn to migrant labour by fast food is providing employers with young, able-bodied and an industry-preferred workforce; and how the Canadian dream operates to enlist the consent of migrant workers within the worksite. This study has implications beyond fast food and western Canada given the proliferation of migrant worker programs on a global scale, and the status of Canada and the Philippines as model immigration and labour programs.

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