Lobby continues to lift foreign labour ban

Bonnie Belec
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Newfoundland minister says federal government being unfair to businesses

Businesses which rely on foreign workers to keep their doors open shouldn’t be punished because of allegations that other companies are abusing the program, says the province’s minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

“You take the fast food industry in Labrador West. It is going to be severely and negatively affected because of one major player right across Canada including here in this province that has abused the system in my opinion,” Kevin O’Brien told The Telegram Friday afternoon.

It’s been two weeks since the federal government suspended its temporary foreign workers program in the food services industry amid allegations of exploitive labour practices across the country and accusations that immigrants are displacing Canadians who want to work.

O’Brien, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), as well as some other provinces, are lobbying Ottawa to reinstate the program until after a review of it is done.

“The federal government, based upon their assessment of the data and information that came forward to the minister was so severe he decided to suspend the program, and my point to him is fine enough, suspend the ones who have abused it, but don’t negatively impact the ones that haven’t. It’s not fair to the rest. That’s my opinion,” he said.

“We are on it now to see if we can come to some kind of compromise until they figure it out, because people’s visas will come due and they’ll have to go back to their native countries, which affects their possible immigration to Canada and the businesses employing them,” O’Brien said.

Under the program, employers must first make an attempt to find qualified Canadian workers before applying for a labour market opinion —  called an LMO — in order to hire someone from abroad.

Companies are required to place ads on the federal government’s online job bank and prove they’ve made other attempts to find Canadian employees.

In January the program came under scrutiny in Labrador as the Canada Border Services Agency began an investigation into allegations by temporary foreign workers that they were forced into overcrowded living conditions.

In 2012 the program was questioned in St. John’s after Guatemalan chicken catchers living in the city complained saying they weren’t getting paid what the employer originally promised, and they were living in a mould-infested apartment.

A story by The Canadian Press says the temporary foreign worker program had about 100,000 people in it in 2002. There are about 338,000 now working across the country.  

According to information provided to The Telegram by the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Citizenship and Immigration Canada reported there were 2,552 Temporary Foreign Workers in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012.

While the numbers haven’t been published for 2013, the department expects the number to be around 3,000.

CFIB representatives met with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney Wednesday to express their members’ displeasure with the Ottawa’s decision. They will meet with him again next week to provide recommendations.

Vaughn Hammond, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Newfoundland and Labrador, told The Telegram Friday afternoon that the program is needed in the province.

“There are times we cannot find people regardless of what we do. We can wage raises, offer benefits, do what is necessary and members are still not getting the applicants required (across the country),” he said.

“There’s a need in Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Clarenville, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Lab City for temporary foreign workers because there are businesses that simply can’t find the workers to keep their businesses going,” said Hammond.

He said CFIB members have told Kenney the labour shortages are real and have asked the federal minister to reinstate the program while the review is ongoing.

Hammond said the CFIB understands where the minister is coming from, but businesses can’t wait months for a resolution.

He said businesses recognize the program has challenges which need to be addressed, but to echo the words of O’Brien, Hammond said not every company should be punished because of the allegations against a few.

“That is what 85 per cent of our members have said. Our members are quite upset about it. A few isolated allegations that haven’t been proven in any form, and what they’ve done is come out and painted the whole sector with this brush that they are abusing the program,” said Hammond.

In the meantime, O’Brien said he has written Kenney and has been involved with a series of conference calls with other provincial and territorial ministers who share the same concerns.

He said they are expecting to meet in July, to address common issues, but he said he’s hoping the suspension will be lifted before that.

 

 

Organizations: The Telegram, Canadian Federation of Independent, Canada Border Services Agency Canadian Press Department of Advanced Education and Skills Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Ottawa Corner Brook Deer Lake Happy Valley Goose Bay Lab

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Recent comments

  • Jessa
    May 14, 2014 - 17:26

    Get rid of the program. I am university student in my third year. I work a job in a cash office where I am a supervisor as well. My job is secure as I am frequently told I am needed and appreciated. However, I have friends who worked at gas stations and in fast food who were fired after training a temporary worker as their replacement. These temporary workers all made well above minimum wage. My best friend's boss also told her he initially only hired her because he thought she was older and he refused to hire the high school students who regularly applied. He openly adnutted to lying in order to hire temp workers. I am very certain more than a few are "allegedly" breaking the rules. There people also do get permanent residency and yet I have English, Korean, and Chinese friends who speak better English (obviously for my English friends haha) and yet they cannot get permanent residency despite having better education and working jobs that are a higher skilled than a burger flipper or juice maker. This program was meant to fill high skilled positions that Canadians cannot fill. Not to be used for low skilled work. And what are we doing giving them residency? Either they move on to a better job after this, or realise that the current job is not enough to pay bills and thusly we imported poverty. Same thing happened in Greece. If the companies cannot fill the positions and refuse to raise wages to attract the employees let them go out of business. That is the capitalist model that Harper loves so dearly. Yet what, pure capitalism is only good when it actually benefits the businesses? Importing low skilled work will only hurt us and our international image in the long run. I have friends in Russia asking me about slavery in Canada because of this. What the heck? End it. I'm tired of my fellow students losing needed jobs because of this. I'm tired of lying businesses. I'm tired of the uneducated temporary worker getting frustrated at me - an ESL teacher - when they cannot understand my order properly. They are not qualified to live here. Stop.

  • Haha yeah right
    May 13, 2014 - 13:19

    That is absolute non-sense. There are Canadians across the country that would be willing to work weekends. I have sisters who are in their teens working weekends and nights at McDonalds. I think before they try to apply for a TFW position the GOVERNMENT must make a job ad for the job and any inquiries/emails are sent directly to the government. Then we'll see "how many canadians don't want to work or move across the country." I'd LOVE to move to Newfoundland but everyone in the west has the impression that there is no work and the pay is bad.

    • a business man
      May 14, 2014 - 09:47

      Well, as I noted before, it is easier to find people to work evenings and weekends in other parts of the country. That said, it gets harder in the summer, and during long weekends. Personally, I solve this problem by hiring 300 part time workers to do the work of 100 full time workers. No one gets more than 20 hours, and as a result, I am always to find someone to work where someone else cancels. My strategy is to keep them all desperate for hours, so that they are less likely to cancel their shifts, and so that they would be willing to take on shifts when someone else cancels. This strategy does not work in newfoundland because there are just not enough people who are willing to work for minimum wage. I could pay more, but at this point it is just easier and more profitable for me to move the newfoundland jobs to the USA.

  • Dean S
    May 12, 2014 - 15:32

    Davec My business employs 15 Canadians but I have difficulty getting them to work weekends and evenings which sadly is when the bulk of our business is done. I was, after a year of red tape and gov frustration supposed to receive 4 foreign workers to cover these shifts at a cost of roughly $10,000.00. In addition i have purchased property to place a house on for them to live in. I would never go to this expense if Canadian workers were available. The fact is that the Canadian work force is not attracted to these positions. Without these foreign workers I will be forced to close this business and another 15 Canadians will be unemployed.

    • a business man
      May 13, 2014 - 12:26

      Good post Dean. I too have a business that mainly operates on evening and weekends....it is a call center. It operates on evening and weekends because then is when people with money to spend are at home. It is just the reality of the business. I also have problems finding locals who are willing to work evenings and weekends for minimum wage. Frankly, in my business, this is a newfoundland problem. My company also has call centers in Ontario, BC and Alberta, and I have no problem there finding locals who are willing to work for minimum wage. My minimum wage workforce is mainly students who are just interested in some spending money....no one want to stay with my call center for life....and that is great because I prefer a revolving door of fresh workers who want to a short term causal job. BUT here, the workers seem to believe that taking 20 second calls entitles them to more than the minimum. In my opinion, the minimum wage is far to high for the work that I have to offer. In any case, I was thinking about applying for TFW's for my newfoundland office, but I don't want to have my company name dragged through the mud. So I have decided that I will close the newfoundland office, and move the nealy 75 jobs. I may keep the jobs in Canada, but I have a call center in the US where I can move the work. I pay those workers far less than the Canadian minimum wage, so that is my first choice. In any case, I am taking jobs out of newfoundland that I might have kept here if I could have gotten TFWs. Now, I will just make money using different workers, but the most important thing is that I will make money. Dean, if I were you, I would consider moving the jobs to the USA. There are many workers there who are willing to work for less than $8/hour because they are just happy to have any job and they know they cannot do much better.

  • jim
    May 12, 2014 - 15:05

    employers Pay a decent wage and not try to make victims out of everyone shame shame shame

  • Keanman
    May 12, 2014 - 13:34

    “We can wage raises, offer benefits, do what is necessary and members are still not getting the applicants required”  Raising wages $0.50 above minimum wage and also offering $0.25 raises per year, is just not going to attract employees. If you want to be truly competitive, try a REAL wage increase/raise scale.

  • Keanman
    May 12, 2014 - 13:29

    “We can wage raises, offer benefits, do what is necessary and members are still not getting the applicants required”  Raising wages $0.50 above minimum wage and also offering $0.25 raises per year, is just not going to attract employees. If you want to be truly competitive, try a REAL wage increase/raise scale.

    • a business man
      May 13, 2014 - 12:32

      No thanks. Unskilled uneducated workers do not deserve more than minimum wage. I would rather move the jobs to the US than pay more money to an unskilled uneducated worker. Note that I primarily invest in companies in which I can easily move the jobs. I try not to invest in industries in which the jobs are tied to specific workers or specific lands (suc as resources). I want a plug and play workforce so that the workers will always know that I have options that do not include them.

  • Dean S
    May 12, 2014 - 12:23

    Davec My business employs 15 Canadians but I have difficulty getting them to work weekends and evenings which sadly is when the bulk of our business is done. I was, after a year of red tape and gov frustration supposed to receive 4 foreign workers to cover these shifts at a cost of roughly $10,000.00. In addition i have purchased property to place a house on for them to live in. I would never go to this expense if Canadian workers were available. The fact is that the Canadian work force is not attracted to these positions. Without these foreign workers I will be forced to close this business and another 15 Canadians will be unemployed.

    • Morris
      May 12, 2014 - 13:05

      Dean - please come out of the shadows! Do the vacancies in your business involve unskilled, low or high skilled duties. Will you be charge these employees rent? I suggest you invest your 10K in bonus money for local employees who remain for a period of time, and also find accommodations for them! If all else fails raise your product or service costs, but I guess that would be difficult since possibly your competitor has foreign workers, and that means they have a competitive advantage! Only the service sector has a temporary foreign worker freeze in place! It needs to be changed. Its the promise of permanent residency that makes these foreign workers willing to accept your employment conditions

    • Dean S
      May 12, 2014 - 15:28

      Morris We have sawmills paying 25/hr that are having the same issues that we are. Workers simply will not stay long term. Your wage costs double when you are in constant training mode. And that is what is killing my business. oh and the 10k is nothing compared to the 20k I've lost over the last six months. I hear you but I think you have to come into the shadows and see whats really going on. Don't believe every thing you read.

  • Concerned
    May 12, 2014 - 11:05

    Exactly how many restaurants closed as a result of TFW ban?

  • davec
    May 12, 2014 - 10:58

    My opinion is businesses need to prove it and continue to prove it yearly. This program desperately needs to be policed, including surprise inspections. Review of living conditions and if a Canadian worker does become available the the temp worker needs to go (maybe to another business or another location to finish their contract) Otherwise just say slavery is ok in Canada and to heck with Canadian workers. When the oil and resources are gone in this country . So many Canadian businesses are in it for todays and next weeks profit only. They forget that in over the long term they need Canadians employed and making a buck in order to buy their products. Sending dollars to other countries does nothing for our future.

  • M
    May 12, 2014 - 09:56

    Morris, Not sure why we need to 'break the circle'?? What is wrong with people from other countries moving to Canada and participating in our workforce? They pay taxes, buy houses, and support our economy. If they move about to find more work and open up opportunities for other anxious workers all the better. This idea that we should be a closed shop for labor ridiculous. It is the equivalent of trying to argue against free trade. Without open markets we would be all driving K cars and paying $100 for a T shirt. Likelwise, without open labor markets you will be paying vastly greater sums for worse service. Keep the circle whole and expand it if possible.

    • Morris
      May 12, 2014 - 12:37

      M Nothing wrong with people from other countries moving to Canada and participating!!!! Each year we have approx. 200,000! I made reference to UNSKILLED AND LOW SKILLED TEMPORARY WORKERS ONLY. Every country in the world , except where there are bilateral agreement ( eu) has employment restrictions on foreigners. You may call that a closed shop and ridiculous however it assigns citizens, right of first employment opportunity ,over non-citizens! Sounds fair to me and most Canadians I suspect! Canadian companies need to pay more for unskilled and low skilled labour and we should be prepared to pay more for that hamburger! Here is the circle I mentioned- Co. hires low skilled foreign worker, a year or so later Provincial immigration approves permanent resident application- worker leave job for better job or leaves province- employer hires another foreign worker. There is no shortage of unskilled labour there is a shortage of foresight and sound immigration policy.

  • Morris
    May 12, 2014 - 05:35

    The following statement made by O'Brien is misleading " and they’ll have to go back to their native countries, which affects their possible immigration to Canada and the businesses employing them,” O’Brien said referring to TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS! The vast majority of all these workers in the service sector are low skilled and DO NOT QUALIFY for Immgration , permanent residency under the federal immigration program! It is the Gov Nl Provincial Immigration Nominee Program which offers and recommends these temporary workers for permanent residency, ( unlike many ORTHER provinces). You can rest assured that after a few years when these individuals become permanent residents and are free to take any job any where or get funding for training they will leave there current jobs and the employer will then recruit another foreign worker. This circle needs to be broken.