Labour Views column for July 9, 2014

Written by Mary Lou Cherwaty, President of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour

On June 20th, Minister Jason Kenney announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).  While on the surface, these changes may appear to be positive for workers, one needs to look at the history of why this program and the so-called changes are really nothing more than “smoke and mirrors”.

From 2006 (when the Conservatives took power) until 2012, the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) increased by 55% annually. During this same time period, the number of lower-skilled TFW entries increased over 200%.

In 2010 the government announced that a list of employers denied eligibility to access the TFWP would be published, and it wasn’t until April 6, 2014 that one name was finally added, even though many abuses have been documented.

In 2012, the government allowed TFWs to be paid up to 15% less than the prevailing wage. They also introduced accelerated Labour Market Opinions (LMOs), to reduce processing time for employers to only 10 days.

In 2013, the pay-less policy was rescinded and the accelerated LMOs suspended. For the first time, a user fee of $275 per position was charged to employers for processing.

On March 26, 2014, Jason Kenney admits that “none of us know exactly what is going on in the labour market of today”.

On April 24, 2014, the government imposes a moratorium on LMO processing for specific occupations in the fast-food sector.

Then on June 11, 2014, an internal government memo reveals that spending on labour market information was cut by 20% in the last three years!

The Canadian Labour Congress has been calling for major reforms to the TFWP:

–  A transition toward eliminating employer access to TFW in lower-skilled occupations.

–  Access to permanent residency and stopping deportation of those whose permits have expired.

–  A comprehensive, independent, transparent review of the TFWP.

–  Strong new eligibility requirements for employers seeking temporary work permits.

–  Requirements to demonstrate concrete measures to train, attract and transition to employing permanent residents/Canadian citizens.

–  An independent, national Commission, with resources, staff, and a mandate to monitor, investigate and enforce TFW rights; as well as work with all stakeholders to regulate permits and their interconnections with labour force development.

– A fair immigration system that increases annual immigration numbers.

–  A comprehensive national training strategy, with investments to achieve specific criteria that will enhance our national labour force.

It is time for this government to wake-up and realize that the current TFWP is seriously flawed, and that no amount of tinkering or changes will revive it.  It is time to abandon a program that does nothing more than depress wages and leave workers vulnerable. It is time to put the focus on long-term solutions for Canada’s labour market. And it is time that all workers in this country are able to have free mobility, fair living wages, and the rights and protections guaranteed by law.

To be clear, there is not a labour shortage in Canada, there is a wage shortage. When employers start paying workers a living wage, our high unemployment numbers will finally decrease.