The federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program has become a necessary evil, fraught with so many troubling issues that we must hold our nose while applauding changes announced to it this week by Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley. Effective immediately, companies with an unblemished two-year history of hiring temporary workers can get expedited government approval — a so-called Labour Market Opinion (LMO) — within 10 business days.
The Alberta government welcomed the changes, with reservations. “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not the be-all and end-all. It is a way to get workers when we need them,” said Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock. But the real key, he said, is residency. “The permanence is an important factor . . . . Ideally, you want somebody who will actually come to stay.”
Unlike the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which limits a workers’ stay to four years, the Alberta government would rather see changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP), which allows individuals, along with their spouse or common-law partner and dependent children, to apply for a permanent resident visa through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a federal department. It is a more human approach. Under AINP, the province is allowed to nominate 5,000 such workers. It wants to see that cap either doubled or removed entirely. Ottawa is the final arbiter on all applications.
Until the AINP is expanded, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) remains the less desirable option to combat labour shortages. Alberta has long complained that the four-year cap on how long a temporary worker can stay in this country penalizes Canadian companies. After providing skills training, and often helping them with language fluency, companies are then forced to essentially kick these employees out of the country, thus enabling other nations to benefit from the training we provide.
Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who comes from an immigrant family, also argues that the TFWP can be cruel. Although spouses and dependants can come under the TFWP, they are often left behind because of the uncertainty of the labour situation. Sherman says money is often sent back home to support families left behind, meaning that it leaves the Canadian economy.
The new TFWP also allows companies to pay workers 15 per cent below the average wage for a job in a specific region, as long as the wages are consistent with Canadian workers, based on Statistics Canada figures. That, too, is problematic. As Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour notes, it could discourage Canadians from other provinces coming to a more expensive place like Alberta.
“They’re trying to drive down salaries and wages and frankly I don’t think that’s the job of our government to take one side, that being business, and find them ways of making money off the backs of citizens of the country by allowing them to drive wages down.”
It’s past time to address the flaws in this useful program that helps bring in the kind of workers we need, only to kick them out once they’ve settled in.
Calgary Herald, Fri Apr 27 2012