Despite having one of the highest levels of unemployment in Canada, Prince Edward Island has seen the number of temporary foreign workers being sought by P.E.I. companies quadrupling within the last ten years.
Previously popular industries seeking temporary foreign workers included the seafood processing plants and farms. In 2013 a detailed list of P.E.I. businesses that received approval for temporary foreign workers was obtained through access to information legislation. This list showed an increasing number of restaurants, nursing homes, trade companies as well as the provincial government among those seeking TFWs.
Currently 19 TFWs are employed within the Health P.E.I on Price Edward Island with hourly salaries ranging from $15 to $187. The spokeswoman for Health P.E.I. says, “Temporary foreign workers have been recruited to the Island if we have not been able to secure Canadian trained health care workers. A variety of health professionals are hired through this program, many are highly skilled specialists who have agreed to provide locum coverage on P.E.I.”
Data from Statistics Canada shows the unemployment rate in Prince Edward Island has remained at 11 per cent since 2005, approximately 8,000 to 9,600 Islanders unemployed annually.
However, within the same time period, the number of Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) approved by Employment and Social Development Canada for temporary foreign worker positions has increased from 220 in 2005 to over 1,100 in 2012.
An LMO is an application a company must submit to prove its efforts toward hiring Canadian workers before turning to the TFW program. Prince Edward Island has seen the highest rate of growth of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada.
In its defence, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says there are some jobs unemployed Islanders are simply not able to perform. “There are skilled trades out there that we may not have people in the province that are able to undertake,” Ghiz said.
Though exact figures for 2013 have not yet been released by Statistics Canada, the list of P.E.I. businesses that received approval to hire TFWs released through access to information shows approximately 500 positions for low-skilled workers. This has led Carl Pursey, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour, to say that the P.E.I. should not be permitted to bring more temporary foreign workers into the province with so many unemployed Islanders.
Pursey claims that businesses bring temporary foreign workers in because they can work them for longer hours and not pay them for all the hours that they work. In other words, Pursey states, “They want them because they can abuse them.”
P.E.I. restaurants are currently suffering a major shortage of cooks and many restaurant owners have joined the national restaurant association in calling on the federal government to lift the current moratorium on the food services industry’s use of the TFW program. It was imposed after reports of abuse of the program surfaced in other jurisdictions.
“This is a labour shortage crisis,” Dolan said. However, Carl Pursey suggests Island restaurants may be facing a shortage of cooks because of low wages.
To ensure fair working conditions, the labour group is calling for more inspections on businesses employing foreign workers. The group also believes restaurants and sectors other than seasonal industries like fish processing and agriculture should not be eligible for TFWs with unemployment figures as high as they currently are.
Carl Pursey claims permanent restaurants are hiring workers from the temporary foreign workers’ pool, thus abusing the system.
In agreement with this view, a spokeswoman for Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s office said the increased use of the TFW program is a key reason recent changes were made to employment insurance. These changes, introduced in 2012, have since proved highly controversial.
One of the changes require employers to continue actively seeking qualified Canadians first, including employers in P.E.I. before resorting to hiring a temporary foreign worker.
Kenney’s spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier said, “The changes our government introduced to the EI system were made in part because a growing number of employers were experiencing labour shortages, even in regions of high unemployment, and were hiring temporary foreign workers from overseas instead of local unemployed individuals.”
Source: The Guardian