Temporary Foreign Workers Program Gets Overhaul

Trent Ernst, Editor

Less than a year after the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was overhauled, the program has been reworked to “ensure Canadians have first chance at available jobs,” says the Harper government.

“Canada is experiencing significant skills shortages in many sectors and regions, and Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities when they become available,” said The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. “The purpose of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to help fill genuine and acute labour needs and we have been reviewing the program to ensure that goal is met and Canadian workers are never displaced.”

The government is introducing legislative, regulatory and administrative changes that will require employers to pay temporary foreign workers at the prevailing wage by removing the existing wage flexibility. This will remove at least one of the perceived inequalities with Temporary Foreign Workers. Currently, employers are allowed to pay up to 15 percent less than the going rate for skilled workers and up to five percent below the prevailing wage for lower skilled jobs.

The new policy temporarily suspends the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process and increase the Government’s authority to suspend and revoke work permits and Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) if the program is being misused.

This could occur if, for example, new information becomes available indicating that the entry of a temporary foreign worker would have a negative impact on the labour market or if it is determined that the LMO or work permit was fraudulently obtained.

Suspending an LMO would stop the issuance of work permits. In cases where an LMO is suspended or revoked, CIC will review the work permits that were issued under that LMO on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the work permits should also be revoked.

It also adds questions to employer LMO applications to ensure that the TFWP is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs and introduce fees for employers for the processing of LMOs and increase the fees for work permits so that the taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the costs. The exact amount of the fees is still being determined. As a direct shot across the bow of HD Mining, the new changes also state that English and French as the only languages that can be used as a job requirement. Exemptions will only be given in specialized cases where a foreign language is an essential job requirement, such as tour guides, translators or performers. In these cases, the onus will be on the employer to explain why a foreign language is a requirement of the job.

On HD Mining’s LMOs, Mandarin was a job requirement, though, lawyers argued in court, only after it was identified that they would be bringing in a team of workers from China.

HD Mining is not willing to comment on how the changes will affect them, if at all, while the matter is before the courts. However, a representative at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada says “There are no implications for employers who have temporary foreign workers or who have already received positive LMOs.” As HD Mining has already received a positive LMO, it appears they will be allowed to continue under the old rules.

The final change to the program ensure employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a firm plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce over time through the LMO process.

But, like the program itself, the changes are controversial. Some say the changes don’t go far enough. Others, that the changes go too far.

The BC Chamber of Commerce is in that latter group. They say BC businesses can’t afford these changes. “These changes will hit many B.C. businesses hard, especially small businesses,” says John Winter, the BC Chamber’s president and CEO.

Winters says BC businesses—from highly skilled workers in construction and the digital industries through to BC’s tourism and hospitality industries—rely heavily on the TFW program to hire skillsets that aren’t available locally, and while the BC Chamber supports efforts to help Canadians fill Canadian jobs, t the proposed changes to the TFW program will have serious fallout.

Some of the greatest demand for Temporary Foreign Workers comes from agriculture, and, while the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and other primary agricultural occupations will be subject to the reform that will increase the Government’s authority to suspend and revoke work permits and LMOs if they are being misused, they will be unaffected by the remaining reforms, as there are proven acute labour shortages in this industry, says the government. The reforms will ensure that the TFWP, which is an important program to deal with acute skills shortages on a temporary basis, is used only as a last resort.