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Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:18

Is it really possible to improve the Temp. Foreign Worker Program?

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Despite recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) by the federal government to address concerns that employers have been abusing the program, the debate over the use of temporary workers appears to be far from over.

That discussion took place earlier this week in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, when the issue was raised by the Saskatchewan NDP during question period on April 13.
NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon highlighted the case of three Saskatchewan workers who lost their jobs in January while three temporary foreign workers, who have been employed by Regina-based home developer Deveraux Developments since May 2014, are still working for the company.
Troy Jessop, one of the men who lost his job, spoke to the media at the legislature after question period. He helped to train the foreign workers, two from Ireland and one from Croatia. He felt the company acted in a one-sided manner by signing a two-year contract with the foreign workers, but not with the local workers.
Regardless of the reasons that the company was still employing the three foreign workers, it is easy for such a situation to become part of a political narrative that employers are abusing the TFWP to the detriment of Canadian workers.
It was obviously the reason the NDP raised the issue in the legislature, because during the ensuing debate Wotherspoon accused the Saskatchewan Party government of not standing up for Saskatchewan workers.
In response Minister of Immigration Jeremy Harrison said the government prefers that Saskatchewan residents and Canadians should be hired for jobs, but that it might be necessary to employ foreign workers in the case of labour shortages.
Harrison noted that Saskatchewan has the lowest unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent in the country and that temporary foreign workers made up only about two per cent of the provincial workforce in December 2013. He added about 50 per cent of people in the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program started out as temporary foreign workers.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada data, there were 83,740 foreign workers in the country in 2013, representing 0.44 per cent of the Canadian workforce. The number of foreign workers has increased with 29 per cent from around 65,000 in 2006 to almost 84,000 in 2013.
Although foreign workers really represent a small portion of the overall labour force, it takes only a few media reports about unscrupulous employers to raise public concerns about the program. It was growing political pressure as a result of such reports that convinced the federal government to overhaul the TFWP in 2014, including enhanced screening measures, stronger enforcement and tougher penalties.
However, there have still been reports about employers replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers. According to a CBC report on April 10 the Fort McMurray airport was laying off 26 employees and contracting out their work to a company that employs temporary foreign workers.
Last month, the federal NDP called for a detailed, independent review of the TFWP after the CBC reported that Microsoft’s new training centre in British Columbia received an exemption from having to prove through a labour market assessment that qualified Canadians are unavailable.
The new rules for the TFWP are also creating uncertainty for foreign workers. Their desire to become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens will be more difficult due to a new requirement since April 1 that enforces a four-year maximum stay for temporary foreign workers.
The TFWP was originally created in 1973 to assist employers to hire highly-skilled foreign nationals such as academics, business executives and engineers for temporary periods. There are arguments both in favour and against the current program, but perhaps it is time to look beyond the economic arguments and to consider the ethical dilemmas of employing temporary foreign workers.
Do we really want to have a society where people are leaving their families behind for long periods of time with a distant hope of eventually becoming permanent residents in Canada? Can one build cohesive communities where people work together to create a shared future when some are foreign and temporary?
The family histories of most Canadians include stories of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who came to Canada to build their dreams of a permanent future in their new country. Perhaps it is time to replace the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with the Permanent New Canadian Worker Program.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Matthew Liebenberg