Concerns raised over changes to Temporary Foreign Worker Program
Health & Safety Workplace Harassment/Discrimination
(Canadian OH&S News) -- Following the recent announcement of a pending overhaul of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), relevant organizations and provincial government ministers have expressed disappointment, predicting...
(Canadian OH&S News) — Following the recent announcement of a pending overhaul of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), relevant organizations and provincial government ministers have expressed disappointment, predicting that the changes will harm small businesses.
On June 20, federal Minister of Employment Jason Kenney and Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander announced changes to the TFWP designed to discourage the kinds of program abuse that had been reported earlier this year, particularly in the food services sector. These changes follow Kenney’s April 24 moratorium on the sector’s access to the TFWP (COHSN, May 5). Among the planned reforms are:
– Employers cannot hire temporary foreign workers (TFW) in areas with unemployment rates higher than six per cent;
– By 2016, employers will be limited to a cap of 10 per cent on the low-wage TFWs they can hire (this cap will be phased in gradually, starting at 30 per cent);
– One in four employers will be inspected annually, with an increase in inspectors by about 50 per cent;
– The application fee per worker requested will increase from $275 to $1,000; and
– Abuse of the program can result in fines of up to $100,000.
In addition, the TFWP will have two sections, one of which will require employers to prove their needs for foreign workers. Both the names of employers permitted to hire TFWs and the numbers of approved positions will be made public, and the amount of time a worker may be employed in Canada will be reduced from four to two years.
Kyle Fawcett, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, expressed strong concern with the 10 per cent cap and the two-year limit. “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been a significant tool for employers and businesses to use, to deal with what has been a long-term, more permanent challenge to our labour issues,” he said. “It’s very difficult for employers to find the types of people that they need, with the range of skills that they require.”
Fawcett conceded that certain other changes could be beneficial. “They will be stepping up enforcement in compliance,” he said, “increasing penalties for those that abuse the program, and we think that’s a step in the right direction.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has raised objections to the TFWP reforms, according to a June 20 press release. “This is a gross overreaction to a handful of negative stories,” the release quoted CFIB president Dan Kelly as saying. “Thousands of businesses that are unable to attract a sufficient number of Canadian workers are losing a critical lifeline. It will likely lead to business closures and, ironically, lost jobs for Canadian workers.”
Kelly had written an open letter to Kenney on May 15, expressing concern about the recent TFWP moratorium in the food services industry and citing reactions from various employers. The letter made nine recommendations, including:
– Establishing a path for TFWs to achieve permanent residence;
– Establishing a Bill of Rights for TFWs;
– Enforcing the current TFWP rules more strictly, rather than adding new rules;
– Creating a new wage model for the workers; and
– Initiating an accreditation system for employers.
“For a government that has made significant strides to reduce the red tape burden on small business, this is a complete
180-degree turn,” Kelly said in the press release.
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce has also raised concerns about the TFWP changes, according to a statement from chamber CEO Steve McLellan. “This is a reaction to political pressures, not reality,” McLellan argued.
Fawcett pointed out that Alberta requires a different solution to address its permanent labour market issues. “The solution could rest in increasing permanent immigration to the province,” he explained, “which might include increasing the numbers allocated to us under the provincial nominee program that allow the province to submit requests for permanent residence from the immigration stream.” But the federal government has not taken this idea seriously, he added.
“We should not let the actions of a few employers paint a broad brush of all of those that access the program,” said Fawcett.