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Feds announce changes to foreign worker program

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

The federal government has announced that employers applying for labour market opinions under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) will now be charged a user fee and face new language and advertising requirements.

Jason Kenney, the federal Minister of Employment and Social Development, announced the reforms on August 7. “These additional reforms help ensure that Canadians are first in line for available jobs,” Kenney said in a statement from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). “They also ensure that taxpayers no longer pay the cost of processing employer applications for temporary foreign workers.”

The following changes are now in effect:

A $275 processing fee for each temporary foreign worker (TFW) position that an employer requests through a labour market opinion, meaning that employers will be less likely to apply for TFW positions they may not fill. In 2012, 60 per cent of positive labour market opinions did not lead to a work permit being issued to a TFW.

English and French are the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement in advertisements and TFW labour market opinion applications. “Exceptions will be made in rare and specialized circumstances only when the employer can demonstrate that another language is essential for the job, such as for a tour guide or translator,” the statement says.

New advertising requirements will double the length and reach of employers’ advertising efforts. All employers are now required to advertise their positions in Canada for a minimum of four weeks, rather than two weeks, before requesting to hire temporary foreign workers. Employers are now required to use two additional methods of recruitment beyond the national Job Bank.

Additional questions have been added to all labour market opinion applications to ensure that the TFWP is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs. The questions assess the impact that hiring a TFW will have on Canada’s labour market based on available information for the region and occupation, allowing program officers to have the information they need to make decisions regarding these applications.

An HRSDC spokesperson said that further changes are under development as part of ongoing reform of the TFWP. These changes include increasing the government’s authority to revoke work permits and suspend, revoke and refuse to process labour market opinions, and ensuring that employers who rely on TFWs have a firm plan in place to help them transition into a Canadian workforce.

“These improvements help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is only used as intended — to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis,” Kenney added in the statement, adding that the reforms do not apply to on-farm primary occupations, such as those under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan calls the $275 fee a “drop in the bucket” that will not stop the exploitation of TFWs. “A lot of these low-wage employers in the service sector will happily pay that for a worker who is willing to work for less for years and is too vulnerable to complain,” McGowan contended in a statement.

The reforms follow an instance in April in which employees of the Royal Bank of Canada found themselves training foreign workers to replace them after their jobs were outsourced. After that incident, and another in which a British Columbia coal mine hired 200 foreign workers, the federal government suspended its accelerated labour market opinion process designed to fast-track applications and required employers to pay TFWs at the prevailing wage. Previously, employers could pay TFWs up to 15 per cent below the prevailing wage for a higher-skilled occupation and five per cent below for a lower-skilled occupation.

For more information on the reforms, visit www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/jobs/foreign_workers