Both the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are concerned changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will have negative consequences on small businesses.
The CFIB notes some small businesses will not have options when it comes to hiring and retaining workers, as there are now entire regions excluded from the program, fees have quadrupled, and the changes show complete disregard for entire sectors of the economy.
“For a government that has made significant strides to reduce the red tape burden on small business, this is a complete 180 degree turn,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “This change represents a ‘gutting’ of the Temporary Foreign Worker program for many in the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors and is the most small business unfriendly move ever made by this government.”
The changes announced today include the complete exclusion from the program of the hotel, restaurant and retail sectors in regions considered to have “high unemployment” – defined as six per cent or above. The non-refundable fee to apply for a Temporary Foreign Worker has also gone from $275 to $1,000 per position, and employers will be forced to provide much more documentation. These changes do nothing to preserve Canadian jobs, and are simply adding more cost for small and medium-sized businesses that use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to address genuine labour shortages.
“Regional jobless rates mean very little to a small business owner who can’t find enough interested workers to keep the doors open,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s Vice President, Prairie and Agri-business. “Unless the federal government is prepared to force unemployed Canadians to move to take jobs they don’t want, these changes leave a huge gap for employers. Let’s face it, an unemployed computer programmer in Toronto isn’t applying for a job to make pizzas in rural Saskatchewan.”
CFIB members have acknowledged problems with the program, and have been strongly supportive of action to ensure that it is used appropriately. In a letter to Minister Kenney in May, CFIB proposed a number of changes, including better pathways to permanent residence for lower-skilled workers and stricter enforcement of existing rules. These recommendations were ignored.
“This is a gross over-reaction to a handful of negative stories,” concluded Braun-Pollon. “Thousands of businesses that are unable to attract a sufficient number of Canadian workers are losing a critical lifeline. It will likely lead to business closures and, ironically, lost jobs for Canadian workers.”
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce argues the program changes fail to demonstrate a clear understanding of the need for more workers and the current value of the Temporary Foreign Worker program to businesses in Saskatchewan.
“The changes announced reflect a public policy decision made without sufficient facts or hard labour market data. This is a reaction to political pressures not reality. Businesses in all Saskatchewan industries have worked diligently to attract and retain Canadian workers and even with greatly enhanced efforts, the need for more workers exist in all sectors and in all regions of the province. The policy change today makes a difficult situation even worse,” said Steve McLellan, CEO, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.
A press statement from the Chamber notes the program changes include:
- Instituting a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) fee on applications of $1000 per employee, up from $275 - plus a “Privilege Fee” of $100 on all applications for LMIA to offset the current federal government costs for skill and job training.
- Reducing the period of time a Temporary Foreign Worker may work in Canada.
- Separating low skilled jobs and defining that as those who are paid under $21.63/hour.
- Restricting the number of Temporary Foreign Worker in a specific workplace to a maximum of 10 per cent.
"Saskatchewan business people want to continue to grow their businesses, serve their customers and have their staff share in the success. The current economic growth we are experiencing means we need many more workers and the TFW program offered an avenue to great workers who wanted to work here. We needed the program simplified not made more complex,” added McLellan. “With the exception of ending the moratorium on Food Service sector application opportunities for Temporary Foreign Workers, these changes will not served Saskatchewan business people, foreign workers or our province well.”
“The rational for these changes was drawn from lacking labour market data; fortunately this is being addressed with the recently announced data collection enhancements and we applaud the government for this effort. However, this offers little comfort for businesses being impacted today as these two new surveys do not start until the spring of 2015, and it’s unlikely any information will be available until well into 2016 or later," McLellan said.