The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says changes to the federal temporary foreign worker program make it more expensive and slow, but the provincial federation of labour says it had become too easy for employers to turn to.
The business federation this week launched a campaign in response to “recent worrisome changes” to the program, by mailing to each Canadian Member of Parliament a copy of a compilation of testimonials from small businesses that depend on the program. Vaughn Hammond, the federation’s senior policy analyst in Newfoundland and Labrador, said the point is to remind politicians the importance of the program to smaller businesses.
Earlier this year, RBC came under fire for its use of the program
“A lot of focus has been on what the larger companies are doing, and what seems to get lost is the whole idea that some small businesses are dependent upon the temporary foreign worker program, and the reaction the federal government had a few months ago may have made it more difficult for small businesses to meet their labour demands.”
New fees, new rules
The changes announced by the federal government include new fees and new rules about when and why companies are allowed to access the program, and the scrapping of the rule that allowed businesses to pay foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage in a particular job classification.
Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said business groups are “feeling the pressure” that the labour movement has been putting on the issue, and that it’s bigger than just the high-profile cases that attract media attention.
“We’ve had all kinds of stories of abuses across the country of local workers being displaced by temporary foreign workers,” she said.
“It really has become a program of first resort rather than last resort, which is the intent of it. Now we just have employers using it rather than training workers, rather than doing a good job search within regions and, quite frankly, raising wages to attract people to the workplace.”
Immigration should be focus
If workers are needed from outside Canada to fill labour shortages or skills mismatches, the focus should be on immigration instead of temporary residence in Canada, said Payne.
“Folks are totally vulnerable to the whim of the employer that’s bringing them into the country, and if you don’t have — as we don’t in Newfoundland and Labrador — a proper bill of rights for these workers, then I’m telling you, abuses will happen.
“And we may never hear about them, because folks aren’t feeling comfortable enough to complain, because complaining means being sent back home.”