Ottawa’s foreign-worker program reform fails to calm B.C. debate

All parties displeased by changes to temporary foreign worker program in the province where it’s most controversial

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, left, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander are seen in a reflection at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, June 20, 2014 on reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, left, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander are seen in a reflection at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, June 20, 2014 on reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

 

VANCOUVER – The federal government’s planned overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program has done little to calm debate in British Columbia, where revelations about foreign workers in a range of industries — from fast food to mining — helped push Ottawa toward reform.

The Conservative government announced a series of changes last Friday designed to make it more difficult and more expensive for companies to use temporary foreign workers, particularly for low-skilled jobs such as those in the fast-food industry.

Use of the temporary foreign worker program, which is designed to allow companies to meet temporary labour shortages, has increased significantly, from about 100,000 workers across the country in 2002 to more than 300,000 today.

In B.C., several revelations about how companies are using the program have fuelled controversy.

In 2012, a Chinese-owned mining company, HD Mining, received approvals to bring in roughly 200 miners from China to work on a proposed coal project.

Two unions filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block HD Mining’s foreign worker permits, alleging the company did not do enough to ensure Canadians were considered first. The unions lost the case.

Earlier this year, news reports alleged three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria were misusing temporary foreign workers, prompting the federal government to announce a moratorium on the food service industry’s use of the program and making the sector a target for Ottawa’s recent changes.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said no amount of reform can change the fact the program will still allow companies to hire foreign workers instead of Canadians.

“The program is still going to exist — they just found ways to massage public opinion so they can continue with it,” said Sinclair.

The federal government’s proposed changes will prevent employers in areas of high unemployment from applying for temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skill groups. It also caps the number of foreign workers employers can use and dramatically increases fees.

Sinclair said the proposed changes will do nothing to help the foreign workers themselves.

“Our position is that they should be given citizenship,” said Sinclair. “If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to live here, bring their families and spend their paycheques in Canada.”

Sinclair argued that it doesn’t make sense to tie the program to unemployment rates, particularly in heavily populated regions such as the Lower Mainland where companies are essentially drawing from the same workforce. For example, Vancouver’s relatively low unemployment rate would allow foreign workers to be used there, but companies in nearby Abbotsford, which has an unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent, would not.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, which has defended the industry’s use of the foreign workers, said the changes will hurt restaurants.

He said only looking at jobless rates fails to take into account whether unemployed workers in a particular area are able to or even want to work in the positions that need to be filled.

“Are we sure that in areas of high unemployment that the group of people who are unemployed are matched for the jobs that are opening?” he said.

Critics have claimed the program drives down wages, because companies that pay at or near minimum wage can bring in foreign workers rather than offer better pay to attract Canadians.

A report published earlier this year by the C.D. Howe Institute, a non-partisan public policy think-tank, suggested the program actually increased unemployment rates in B.C. and Alberta. The report said one of the program’s goals is, in fact, to keep wages from “rising precipitously” in response to a shortage of workers.

The B.C. government, which emerged as a vocal supporter of HD Mining’s use of the program, reacted to last week’s announcement only by saying it would be reviewing the proposed changes.

“Our province is on the verge of unprecedented growth and I want to make sure there are no unintended consequences that hinder economic development in B.C.,” said a written statement from Jobs Minister Shirley Bond.

B.C.’s Opposition New Democrats said the provincial government should have demanded that Ottawa hand over more control of the program.

“This is a once-size-fits-all approach and we have distinct needs from coast to coast,” said NDP Leader John Horgan.

“Here in B.C., the program is heavily subscribed and I believe that’s a disincentive to employers to look for training opportunities.




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Ottawa’s foreign-worker program reform fails to calm B.C. debate

  1. If Canadians don’t want the jobs then they should go to foreign workers who do.

    • and where did you “source” that Canadians don’t want a job,…, from Kenney-sponsored Kijjiji ?
      -it’s a myth based on Canada-Corporate lies sponsored by our gov’t.
      Do we really want to turn the rest of Canadian cities into Hongcouver’s?

      • If Canadians wanted those jobs….they’d grab them, and there would be no need to import anybody.

        ‘Hongcouver’ just means a lot of Chinese live in Vancouver. They came over when Hong Kong reverted to China….years ago now.

  2. Funny how we insanely turn away TFW yet have immigration to social assistance, and able working age social assistance pays so much no one wants these jobs. Typical economic insanity by Ottawa and the economic illiterate noisy in Canada.

    But I agree, TFW program should be eliminated. It should be part of the Immigration process, if you have and maintain a job for say 10 years, a JOB then you can jump the queue. Most countries don’t allow social assistance or social programs like pensions unless you have 10 or 20 years of tax paid residency.

    Canada has over 2 million able working age on one social program or another. If you get $2900/mo, 2 adults, 2 kids, with free dental and drugs, why take a job? Fact is it doesn’t pay to take a job. Immigration, EI, FN others unwilling to move for jobs.

    We have lots of idle labour, just no incentive to work. 2+ million social assistance votes, 3+ million (city/prov/fed) union civil service votes, 5 million votes for other peoples money before the polls open…

    No wonder this country is an economic mess. We reward dysfunction while penalizing productive people. So we have fewer productive people and insane high taxes for bailout corporations, unions, banks, hoards of lazy.

    • No, you’re just back to your ‘cut taxes’ meme….that you put into every answer no matter what the topic.

    • Plus you need a solid source for ‘Canada has over 2 million able working age on one social program or another. If you get $2900/mo, 2 adults, 2 kids, with free dental and drugs’

    • HA! What social program in Canada pays $2900/month for a family of 4? Good grief… $900 maybe? Even the maximum EI doesn’t pay that.

    • 2900$/m? That is, 34800$/year? With free dental and drugs? Where’s that social program that I can take advantage of it rapido presto? Man, get your facts straight.

    • Do your research Dave, you’re not even close. Basic SA in Vancouver is basically the same as it’s been for a generation – Around $500/month for a single guy…not sure what the rent subsidy is these days. In my day it was barely the cost of a room in house – $200/month. It was common place to see people stealing food from safeway by the end of the month and or trudging round to every free soup kitchen.[ ever heard of Emery Barnes? Go google what he did before you shoot your mouth off about stuff you know zip about] It wasn’t an experience i’d not want to repeat or wish on anyone, lazy young bugger that i was back then. God knows how any one gets by with rent being what it is in the lower mainland now. The only folks who get anywhere within the same ball park as the stupid numbers you’re throwing around is families with kids – which is as it should be.

  3. What the world needs is a mass virus genocide to clean up the world population.

    • Ooooh yer a nice guy! What if it’s YOUR family that gets wiped out?

      We could put the population of the entire world….in single family dwellings…..in Texas ya know.

      Ontario would provide twice the space.

      We are not overcrowded.

      • …that’s because Canadians have been leaving Ontario, for Alberta,…, canadians are moving out, and tfw’s, and immigrations are moving in. but the problem is we do NOT have the economy to support them all.
        Post-WW2 immigration levels made sense, because we needed them, and there was lots of work.
        But this present (Fed)Gov’t, since it’s inception, has been bringing on more than all of post-war immigration combined.
        We simply do NOT have the work for them.
        This TFW program has to to thrown out, and we need to limit immigration, like the Americans have done, until we can, more better, get on our feet.

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