Foreign worker program changes not enough: NLFL

Labour group calls for increased immigration, more training opportunities

Published on June 23, 2014
Mary Shortall. — Western Star file photo

The federal government’s plan to reform the temporary foreign workers program is not receiving rave reviews from a local labour organization.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) is calling government’s attempt to rescue the program deeply flawed and suggests it needs to be replaced by a new program.

“What it does is limit the number of temporary foreign workers, it costs employers more money to have them, and they’re there for a shorter period of time, but in our opinion, that’s not what the issue is,” said NLFL president Mary Shortall.

“The issue is that these migrant workers are being used because they’ve created a low-wage economy and the government is just catering to the employers like Tim Hortons, like McDonald’s, who make huge profits, who are still going to be able to access temporary foreign workers, yet there’s a million Canadians unemployed out there.”

How much companies in the food service industry will be able to make use of the program in Newfoundland and Labrador in the years ahead is up for debate.

Under the proposed reforms, applications for the lowest-wage and lowest-skill positions at an entry level will be barred from the program in areas of high unemployment — defined as six per cent or higher.

While the provincial unemployment rate has fallen considerably in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to where it was five years ago, Newfoundland and Labrador still has one of the highest rates in Canada. Last month’s rate for the province was 12.7 per cent, second highest among all Canadian provinces. For St. John’s in May, it was 6.4 per cent.

“Why is it with an unemployment rate like we have that they’re asking for (temporary foreign workers) in the first place?” Shortall asked.

The term for low-wage workers will be reduced from two years to one. A low wage will be defined as a salary that falls below the provincial median.

A 10 per cent cap will also be in place for employers with low-wage temporary workers. A transition period will allow employers to maintain a 30 per cent level for now and 20 per cent as of July 1, 2015. The 10 per cent rule will come into effect a year later.

If inability to access the program forces consumers to pay more for products and services to allow  employers to offer higher wages to attract Canadians needing work, Shortall said that will be good for the economy.

“We’ve created this low-wage economy, and there’s an expectation that those jobs can be filled by people who can work for less than they need to survive.”

Shortall said there is an obvious need for migrant workers in Canada. She suggests training programs and skill-matching exercises will prove beneficial if introduced. In light of Newfoundland and Labrador’s stagnant birth rate, Shortall said the province ultimately needs more immigrants.

“So why not just have the provincial government and the federal government work together and create residencies and not temporary workers who come in for permanent jobs?”

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew