Federal government tightens Temporary Foreign Workers program

Putting local job seekers first in line, but labour union says changes not enough

Employers looking to hire temporary foreign workers will now have to first secure a Labour Market Opinion and pay a corresponding processing fee of $275.

The announcement by Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney which came into effect on August 1, is part of measures which aim to ensure that employers hire locals first before considering foreign workers.

"Our government's number one priority remains jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity," said Kenney. "These additional reforms help ensure that Canadians are first in line for available jobs. They also ensure that taxpayers no longer pay the cost of processing employer applications for temporary foreign workers."

"Qualified Canadians, including new Canadians, should have first crack at available jobs," added Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. "These new measures demonstrate that our Government is committed to ensuring the Temporary Foreign Worker program functions as intended."

The processing fee requirement for employers will help curb unnecessary spending of taxpayer money, as was the case in 2012 when 60 percent of positive Labour Market Opinions did not lead to a work permit being issued to a temporary foreign worker, according to the government.

Aside from the LMO requirement, the revised Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations now defines a new language assessment factor that states English and French are the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement, both in LMO requests and in advertisements by employers applying to hire temporary foreign workers, unless employers can demonstrate that another language is essential for the job.

Job advertising requirements have also been extended from two to four weeks, while the 15 per cent pay gap for temporary foreign workers has also been eliminated, according to the government.

The government is also planning to implement rules on the cancellation of work permits as well as the suspension of LMO processing, and requiring employers to submit future plans for transitioning to local employees.

"The reforms announced today and in recent months further strengthen the integrity of the Temporary Foreign Worker program and ensure that more employers hire Canadians before hiring temporary foreign workers," said Kenney. "These improvements help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker program is only used as intended—to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis."

Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) warns that revisions to the foreign workers program will not be effective against employers who seek to exploit foreign workers.

The AFL, which has long been a critic of the program, says that the $275 Labour Market Opinion processing fee will only cost employers around three and a half cents each hour over the four-year course of a temporary foreign worker's employment duration.

"A lot of these low-wage employers in the service sector will happily pay that for a worker who is willing to work for less for years and is too vulnerable to complain. $275 is a drop in the bucket and will not provide a significant disincentive to any employers who are trying to keep wages low," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL.

"Leaving the determination of whether TFWs are adversely affecting the economy in the hands of employers to see if Canadians are being displaced is laughable. Low-wage employers can't be relied upon to protect the public interest."

The topic of temporary foreign workers is now popular among politicians, with the number of immigrant workers shooting up to over 340,000 in just 10 years despite poor economic conditions and the number of unemployed locals looking for jobs.

Fanning the flames are reported cases of employers exploiting TFWs.

"The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has been greatly expanded since the Conservatives took power in 2006, is discredited, and has lost public support," McGowan said. "They're hoping these changes will make it palatable, but Canadians know exploitation when they see it. Canadians don't want to see the creation of a permanent non-voting underclass of workers who don't have the same rights as other residents of the country."

Beacon News online, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013
Byline: Kharl Prado

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