Documents have been released showing that the Conservative government knew the temporary foreign worker program was causing pressure on youth employment almost a year before reforming the program. In an August 2013 briefing note for Employment Minister Jason Kenney, department officials warned that industries which commonly employ young Canadians are also among the employers hiring the most temporary foreign workers.
The document, prepared shortly after Kenney was appointed to the department reads, “Five of the top six industries that employ the most youth were also in the top half of (temporary foreign worker) program users.”
Critics of the temporary foreign worker program have raised concerns that employers were hiring lower-paid foreign workers, rather than Canadian workers. Kenney’s office says reforms made in June 2014, almost one year after the internal briefing, have specifically addressed the issue.
The industries listed as employing a large proportion of youth and foreign workers include accommodation and food service, construction, information and cultural industries, as well as the unspecified “other services.”
The internal documents were obtained by the Opposition New Democrats under access to information law. According to the NDP, the documents prove the governing Conservatives were aware of problems with the temporary foreign worker program, especially the issues related to youth employment , but took no action until media reports exposed abuse of the system.
Alexandra Fortier, Kenney’s director of communications disputed the opposition claims saying that the government’s June 2014 overhaul of the system directly addressed the issue of employers hiring lower-paid foreign workers over young Canadians.
The documents note that excluding young people from entry-level positions delays the development of the so-called “non-cognitive” skills people pick up on the job: self-management, teamwork, persistence and problem-solving, among others.
The national youth unemployment rate was 13.3 per cent in December, the same as a year ago and almost double the national unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent. In 2012 Canada fell near the average for youth unemployment among OECD countries, with 20.1 per cent for those aged 15 to 19, and 11 per cent for those aged 20 to 24. Certain groups faced higher unemployment rates, including aboriginal youth (20.9 per cent), recent immigrant youth (22.7 per cent) and youth with disabilities (23 per cent).