Federal employment minister hints temporary foreign worker relief on the way for businesses


Federal employment minister hints temporary foreign worker relief on the way for businesses

Alia Dharssi, Postmedia

Sunday, June 19, 2016, 7:27 PM

The feds may loosen restrictions preventing Canadian businesses from hiring low-wage temporary workers as more than 10% of their work force, starting in July.

“For some sectors where we haven’t found the Canadians to fill those voids, it will make a huge challenge for businesses,” federal Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said.

“And if they can’t find that workforce, then they must have access to temporary foreign workers or we could lose businesses.”

Mihychuk, who highlighted the labour shortages Alberta’s meat processors are facing, said she anticipates making an announcement on the issue soon after receiving the findings of a federal review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

A report by the parliamentary committee examining the program is expected to be released within days.

While Mihychuk didn’t specify whether the 10% cap would be scrapped altogether or relaxed for certain industries, a policy change could bring welcome relief for many businesses in low-paying industries, such as meat processing, seafood processing and hospitality.

Employers in these sectors say that Canadians aren’t eager to take available jobs, especially in remote areas, and that positions are left vacant.

“If you go to the meat processing plants, you will see hundreds of stations that sit empty,” said Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, to the committee reviewing the TFWP earlier this month.

In Alberta’s beef sector, the shortage of skilled butchers to works in meat processing plants are felt down the supply chain.

Cows fetch less value for cattle feeders when meat processors don’t have the manpower to produce a full range of cuts to maximize money earned from each animal, said Casey Vander Ploeg, manager of policy and research at the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.

The TFW caps, which have been implemented on a sliding scale starting with a 30% cap in 2014, were put in place by the previous Conservative government as part of a series of reforms to push employers to prioritize hiring Canadian workers over foreign ones.

They apply to employers with 10 or more employees with exemptions for primary agriculture and caregivers.

But, according to Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the caps are the most negative of various reforms made by the Conservatives that rendered the program “near useless” to small-and medium-sized firms.

These include restaurants and motels in remote areas that find it difficult to hire people as housekeepers or waiters, but easily hit their cap because of their small staff, he explained.

A pizza shop with a staff of 10, for example, would only be permitted one TFW.

“We are thrilled that Minister Mihychuk and the Liberals seem to be taking a much more thoughtful and reasonable approach with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Kelly said.