The number of low-skill temporary foreign workers entering Canada continued to grow in the first quarter of 2014 despite government efforts to reduce the impact of the controversial program.
Through the end of March, the number admitted was up by more than 6 per cent compared with the same period the year before, to 14,216, according to preliminary estimates from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The continued growth in this section of the program, after a suite of reforms in 2013, may have influenced the government’s decision to announce strict new rules four months ago, changes that have brought criticism from business groups concerned they’ll be unable to meet their labour needs.
Some low-skill temporary workers are employed in the hospitality and food-service sector, and their presence has proved contentious when they’ve been hired in areas of high unemployment or when they’ve replaced Canadians.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced in June that his department would no longer process applications from employers if the regional unemployment rate in their place of business exceeds 6 per cent.
The rise in low-skill workers entering in 2014 is part of a pattern of growth in recent years, as their numbers grew by 22 per cent between 2010 and 2013. The new measures announced by the government in June are intended to make it more difficult to import TFWs, but figures that might reflect the impact of those changes aren’t yet available.
This year’s increase in low-skill TFWs came despite a major government effort, announced in April, 2013, to clamp down on the TFW program and make it a last resort in cases of “acute skills shortages.”
The Conservative government took another run at reforming the program four months ago, announcing a much higher application fee, caps on the number of low-skilled workers a business can employ and stricter requirements on advertising the job and recruiting Canadians.
The jump in low-skill entrants to Canada comes at the same time that preliminary estimates show a decline in the total number of TFWs admitted from January to March. That decline, though, is the result of a significant drop in the number of highly skilled TFWs granted entry. The low-skill group, meanwhile, grew across all categories, for live-in-caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, and the low-skill pilot program that includes restaurant and hotel workers among others. Many critics of the program have been careful to state they are not opposed to the movement of high-level employees in fields such as business and academia, but question why jobs that require little formal training are being given to workers from overseas.
Some aboriginal leaders have expressed frustration with the way employers, particularly in Western Canada, have turned to the TFW program rather than investing in the local work force. Despite the economic boom in Canada’s western provinces, many aboriginal communities continue to suffer unemployment rates much higher than the general population. One of the new rules introduced in June requires that employers demonstrate that they’ve reached out to aboriginals and other groups that are less represented in the work force before work permits are granted.
“Drilling down on the temporary foreign worker program, I don’t think it works for the majority of First Nations or aboriginal people,” said the Assembly of First Nations Alberta regional chief Cameron Alexis. “At the end of the day, we’re being left out.”
Source: The Globe and Mail
Complaints that three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria were favouring foreign workers over domestic aired by the CBC in early April and quickly led to sweeping changes to the work in Canada program, affecting every sector in the country. Rapid response to problems by government is usually worthy of applause, but for a complex program that’s been part of Canada’s economic mosaic for four decades, it’s now clear that the politically driven haste has left serious unintended consequences.
One example is the skiing industry, which employs hundreds of temporary foreign workers, including instructors, which are in short supply in this country. The changes are seriously jeopardizing the coming season, as well as the longer-term economic viability of ski resort operators.
One of the government enforced changes will decrease the percentage of low-skilled temporary foreign workers from 30 per cent to just 10 per cent by mid-2016. The definition of “low skilled,” which has traditionally been tied to national occupation codes, will now be defined as workers earning less than a province’s median hourly wage.
Surprisingly, in Atlantic Canada provinces with unemployment rates above 6 per cent are seeing a complete phase out of temporary foreign workers. Nova Scotia Labour Minister Kelly Regan said, “There may be some fish plants that have great difficulty in getting in the harvest if they are not able to have temporary foreign workers.” Prince Edward Island is equally alarmed that the changes would prevent processing of its all-important lobster harvest. Some seafood plants are in rural communities with aging populations as younger people having no interest in working in a fish plant move to the cities.
Making matters worse, the 360-per-cent fee increase to $1,000 for bringing in a temporary foreign worker falls most heavily on employers whose jobs are actually temporary. The agricultural industry is exempt from the new rules because planting and harvesting requires large numbers of workers for short periods.
Still to come are new rules for so-called “live-in” caregivers, which mainly refers to nannies. Hopefully, these will receive more careful consideration including the fact that very few Canadians are interested in being nannies and restricting the availability of nannies would very seriously affect the ability of mothers to do skilled jobs.
Provinces with the highest unemployment rates share concerns with the province with the lowest unemployment rate serves to illustrate the hazards of precipitous, broad-brush policy changes that don’t consider our country’s complex employment mosaic. It’s important for Mr. Kenney to publicly recognize that rather than stealing jobs, the majority of temporary foreign workers recruited to work in Canada perform important jobs that otherwise just wouldn’t get done.
Source: The Globe And Mail