CHARLOTTETOWN – On July 11, Canadian Employment Minister Jason Kenney faced critics of his recent reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Minister Kenney was in town to co-chair the Forum of Labour Market Ministers with the honourable Allen Roach of Prince Edward Island.
The forum was Kenney’s first meeting with his fellow ministers since the federal program was overhauled in June to make hiring temporary foreign workers more difficult for Canadian employers. The reforms restrict the number of foreign employees that large and mid-sized companies can legally hire, with harsher penalties and regulated inspections to discourage violations. Provincial ministers, including the newly elected Ontario and Québec representatives, had their first opportunity to confront Kenney about these changes. The day before the forum, western Canadian premiers had gathered in Iqaluit to protest the reforms.
At a recent summit in Toronto, Kenney had announced his plans for the forum to focus on the increasing need to harmonize apprenticeship systems. He told provincial stakeholders that “greater harmonization of apprenticeship systems in the provinces” would facilitate the labour mobility of skilled workers, so they can “move from one province to another without losing time or losing the investment they’ve made.”
But at the forum in Charlottetown, a different topic was on everyone’s minds. Several of the ministers in attendance expressed how the overhauled TFWP affects their provincial job markets, and leaves them with a pressing need for low-skilled workers.
Alberta labour minister Kyle Fawcett told the CBC that the recent overhaul would have “severe economic consequences.” He objected to a one-size-fits-all approach for the various provinces.
“What we want to articulate is that there isn’t a made-in-Canada solution that is the silver bullet for all of our problems,” Fawcett stressed. “If we can convince [Kenney] that there might need to be some differentiation of policy between the regions in the country, I think that would be a positive step forward.”
Co-chair Minister Roach also spoke to the CBC, addressing similar issues raised by his province’s Seafood Processors Association about the adverse economic effects of the recent policy changes.
“They have concerns about not being able to access the labour force necessary to process their product,” Roach said, “and when the product doesn’t leave, the company doesn’t make the money and that affects the economy of all of P.E.I.”
Defending the controversial reforms, Kenney has justified their necessity to curb abuses of TFWP, which have systemically distorted the labour market and led to suppressed wages. But after hearing the concerns voiced at the forum, Kenney has agreed to consider local exemptions to the program.
Willing to consider local exemptions
As a conciliatory measure, these exemptions would apply to places with exceptionally low unemployment levels within regions that have higher levels. These would include remote communities where Canadian workers are not readily available.
“In some cases, where there are very low levels of unemployment found within regions of higher unemployment, we are prepared to consider special local exemptions from some of the changes that we recently announced,” Kenney said.
However, Kenney remains firm in his original objective to dissuade employers from exploiting the program for cheap foreign labour when unemployed Canadians are available. While promising to take his fellow ministers’ concerns seriously, he stressed that “Canadians always come first in our job market and that the temporary foreign worker program is only a last, limited and temporary resort.”
Not singling out any specific regions or industries, Kenney encourages employers “to redouble their efforts to hire and where necessary accommodate local unemployed workers.” Accommodations could include increased pay, more flexible hours, additional training, or transportation for employees in remote areas.
“We think those options are all preferable than picking up the phone and calling a labour recruiter on the other side of the world and having someone fly you in from a developing country, into a region of double-digit unemployment.”
Canadian Immigration relies on TWFP to furnish Canadian employers with work permits to import foreign labour. Previously, the CEO of Tim Hortons made public his objections to the reforms.
For more information on Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, contact First Immigration Law Firm @ 514-360-4333