Temporary foreign workforce in P.E.I. quadruples while unemployment rate remains high

Teresa Wright
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Front cover of Service Canada's temporary foreign workers information brochure for employers.

Prince Edward Island consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, yet the number of temporary foreign workers being sought by P.E.I. companies has more than quadrupled in the last decade.

And it’s no longer only seafood processing plants and farms utilizing these workers.

A detailed list of P.E.I. businesses that received approval for temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2013 shows an increasing number of restaurants, nursing homes and trades companies are looking for TFWs.

The list, obtained through access to information legislation, shows even the provincial government uses temporary foreign workers.

Health P.E.I. currently has approximately 19 individuals employed on the Island through the temporary foreign worker program, with salary ranges between $15 and $187 per hour, a spokeswoman for Health P.E.I. told The Guardian in a statement.

“Temporary foreign workers have been recruited to the Island if we have not been able to secure Canadian trained health care workers,” the spokeswoman said.

“A variety of health professionals are hired through this program, many are highly skilled specialists who have agreed to provide locum coverage on P.E.I.”


Data from Statistics Canada shows the unemployment rate in Prince Edward Island has hovered around 11 per cent since 2005 – which equates to between 8,000 and 9,600 Islanders without jobs every year.

Over that same time period, the number of Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) approved by Employment and Social Development Canada for temporary foreign worker positions has ballooned from 220 in 2005 to over 1,100 in 2012.

LMOs are applications a company must submit to prove it has made every effort to hire Canadian workers before turning to the TFW program.

Prince Edward Island has the highest rate of growth of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada.

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says there are some jobs unemployed Islanders are simply not able to perform. 

“If there’s a 70-year-old person that needs a job… they may not be able to do a certain job, so that’s why you need temporary foreign workers,” Ghiz said.

“There are skilled trades out there that we may not have people in the province that are able to undertake.”

Numbers for 2013 have not yet been released by Statistics Canada, but the list of P.E.I. businesses that received approval to hire TFWs in 2013 released through access to information shows close to 500 positions were for low-skilled workers.

Carl Pursey, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour, says P.E.I. should not be permitted to bring more temporary foreign workers into the province when so many Islanders are jobless.

He said the problem lies in the fact some businesses do not want to pay wages and offer working conditions that Islanders would accept.

“They want to bring temporary foreign workers in because they can work them for longer hours and not pay them for all the hours that they work, and they can charge them $800 for living accommodations and put about 20 of them in one house,” Pursey said.

“They want them because they can abuse them.”

Earlier this week, Restaurants Canada chairman and Charlottetown restaurant owner Liam Dolan said P.E.I. restaurants are suffering from a major shortage of cooks.

That’s why he joined with the national restaurant association in calling on the federal government to lift the current moratorium on the food services industry’s use of the TFW program. It was imposed after reports of abuse of the program surfaced in other jurisdictions.

“This is a labour shortage crisis,” Dolan said.

“It’s just very, very hard to find cooks. It’s like other trades. You talk to electricians, they’ve all gone west.”

But Pursey suggests Island restaurants may be short on cooks because they are not paying them enough.

“If you want a certified cook, you’ll probably have to pay them more than $10 an hour,” Pursey said.

The labour group is calling for more inspections on businesses that employ foreign workers to ensure their working conditions are fair.

It also believes restaurants and sectors other than seasonal industries like fish processing and agriculture should not be eligible for TFWs while so many Islanders remain unemployed.

“There’s nothing temporary about a restaurant that’s open year-round. There’s no reason for them to have someone in temporarily,” Pursey said.

“That’s not the intent of the program.”

Ottawa, it seems, may agree.

A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s office said the increased use of the TFW program is a key reason recent changes were made to employment insurance – changes that have since proved highly controversial.

“The changes our government introduced to the EI system in 2012 were made in part because a growing number of employers were experiencing labour shortages, even in regions of high unemployment, and were resorting to bringing in temporary foreign workers from overseas, rather than hiring local unemployed individuals,” Kenney’s spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier said in an email to The Guardian. 

“Employers are required to continue actively seeking qualified Canadians first, including employers in P.E.I.’’

The Guardian attempted to contact a number of the businesses on the list of companies that received approval to hire temporary foreign workers in P.E.I., but did not receive any responses.





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Recent comments

  • Jane
    February 04, 2015 - 10:03

    Whoever wrote this is full of lies. PEI has always had high unemployment. The electricians did not all go out west, my brother-in-law is a huge contractor in Saint John who little work for the past year due to outsiders taking all the work and the contracts have been driven down to peanuts. He is well known and has worked all over the east into Quebec...

  • w kennedy
    June 01, 2014 - 00:53

    You have to pay twice. The islanders that didn't get the jobs .Welfare for the unemployed is provincial or fed taxes

  • That settles it.
    May 31, 2014 - 10:56

    He is entally challenged or deliusional. The only reason you would have to work at seventy is because your government spent all your money on roads we don't need and meals in Florida and who knows where esle for Ronnie McKinley. Access that info and you'll see the current governmemt spending like drunken sailors and they don't care if you know.

  • Bob
    May 31, 2014 - 06:31

    Ha ha. What hypocrites. WE have endless people going off to work as foreign workers in Alberta because we'll work for less than the Albertans will. Then we come back here and complain because some other people are doing the same thing to us on PEI.

    • SlyFox
      May 31, 2014 - 12:31

      Bob,your mistaken.Most people who head west for work belong to a union.How many TFW are in a union here? Now this being said both Islanders and Alberta workers make the same wage doing the same work as stated in the collective agreement.

  • Bob
    May 30, 2014 - 21:29

    They couldn't get their two tiered minimum wage law passed so decided to try a different route and just get cheap labour from away. They should really be ashamed of themselves although I'm sure they are not. I see the Mcdonalds guy driving around in his porsche and i be the rest of them are the same but they can't afford to pay someone minimum wage. Did Liam Dolan actually saying it was a crisis with a straight face. disgusting

  • Fed up
    May 30, 2014 - 21:10

    What a bunch of Bull!! Employers do NOT try for locals at all!! They fill their places with foreign workers! Start with one...then two...then three! Check out fast food stores....75-80% are foreign workers. I know of FIVE young people...RIGHT NOW...that have walked the streets. I have driven them day after day!! Turned away!! In 3 cases, these same companies had BRAND NEW FOREIGNERS WORKING! , I watched it on purpose....and Ghiz wants to bring in MORE????? Makes us SICK!!!

  • Robert M
    May 30, 2014 - 16:46

    Just wonder what companies were redacted, and why that was? Being on EI is no picnic! You only get 50-55% of your regular wage and even though it was a money making program the government has reduced the amount you get paid and how long you can get cheques too.

  • SlyFox
    May 30, 2014 - 15:18

    The Island has the highest unemployment rate and we are told we need TFW? This does not make sense and people know it. I have talked to two companies in one who has 6 TFW and the other none.The company with the TFW said they could not find workers but the second company said they have been turning people looking for work away daily because they had all their workers. Now some will say we need the TFW because people are lazy and just want enough work to collect E.I. This makes no sense because most jobs are at minimum wage that we are talking about.So if someone went on E.I after they had done enough work to be able to ,their wages from E.I would be half of what they were making working or about 5 dollars an hour.Can one even feed oneself and house themselves on this amount ? If these business want to operate in a free market let them play by the same rules as everyone else.If they can not compete,let them close instead of propping them up with TFW.

  • Ashley
    May 30, 2014 - 14:19

    Take a drive through some of the eastern pei communities and there are dozens and dozens of Chinese and Mexican foreign temporary workers. They have all been taken here to work at the fish plants, yet if your a local they won't hire you. I know many people who have called the plants looking for work, and they either never hear back from anyone or they are told they aren't hiring. The work long hours at the factory, and the factory cooks their meals for them every day and provides them with transportation to and from work each day. Must Be nice to get the job and all the perks too...

  • ron
    May 30, 2014 - 13:16

    Why do the Liberals and Conservatives support a program that is increasingly being revealed to be a form of wage suppression for Canadians and a result of inadequate training opportunities for our own people?

  • Don't Believe It
    May 30, 2014 - 12:02

    I know someone who works as a casual at a unionized nursing home who constantly struggles to get more than 20 hours a week because of TFW's. If she, or others in her situation ask for more hours there aren't any but then a new crew of CFA faces show up on shift - and they are always hiring. Employers say they have to hire them because there aren't enough locals to do the work, but what would happen if they offered full time meaningful employment? The salaries wouldn't be subsidized, so it won't happen. If you want unemployed Islanders to take some of these jobs - make it a level playing field, because it sure isn't right now. Maybe TFW's can afford to work whatever shifts they get for $10 an hour, because they either live in supplied housing or bunch together in apartments. They aren't striving to buy a home or raise a family here like our native Islanders are. The other side of the coin is there are women working here whose children are back home - revamp the TFW program and let qualified families immigrate if they choose to. As an aside, I've seen TFW crews in farm fields working 12-14 hours days doing manual labour. We should be helping people, not taking advantage of them - and that's TFW's and Islanders alike!

  • Brad B
    May 30, 2014 - 11:45

    What about training? Employers should compete for skilled labour just like they compete for customers. If they can't afford the wage, then they should be training someone in-house to do the job. Employers need to realize that if they can't find skilled labour then they need to create it themselves. Not by abusing the TFW.

  • reality
    May 30, 2014 - 11:38

    conservative party must agree with ghiz -they are too scared to call out their friends ,just like the liberals

  • Here's A Thought
    May 30, 2014 - 11:26

    Provinces should not be allowed to use the program unless their unemployment rate is less than 5%. This would create some incentive for employers to hire locally and get that number closer to where they can hire TFWs.

  • Observer from the East
    May 30, 2014 - 10:55

    Pay a reasonable living wage and the need for TFWs will go down significantly. Some people hate government intervening on things like this, but it appears something has to be done

  • Disgusted!
    May 30, 2014 - 10:48

    This totally disgust me. Our jobs, our children's jobs are being taken away. My nephew looked for 4 months solid for employment in any industry, doing any job. Not one call! I see a welding company name on the list....do we not have graduates coming out of welding school??? Andrews? Is there an unknown shortage of RCW's?? It also infuriates me to read, cuts to reading programs at school! Yet, the very next day, I watch on compass how the school system is adding class time to help immigrants read!! Islanders are being pushed right out the door....

  • Out of work LPN
    May 30, 2014 - 10:41

    I hate to say negative things, but this has hit home very much. I worked in a nursing home and very much enjoyed my work and the people I cared for. Last summer I had to take a leave due to health issues with a Dr's note for 6 weeks upon trying to return to work I was given the run-around and kept asking to be put back on the schedule. This never happened even though I had no issues with my employment, I later found out that my job was being done by a untrained TFW and they were being allowed to pass medication, I really question the safety of this practice in Island nursing homes and I also think that people should be aware of the kind of care their loved ones are receiving. This has put a bitter taste in my mouth as I loved my job and am now sitting home with no income coming in as living in the new area of the Ei changes which the next community can receive but not where I live. I would work for minimum wage but they always say I'm over-educated so do not say Islanders are lazy.

  • U IBC
    May 30, 2014 - 10:39

    Ghiz you are so wrong , I ;m so tired of going to a store or restaurant and have the person waiting on me speaking " NO ENGLISH " I have stopped going to them I hope a lot more of the unemployed ,in PEI do the same . I have seen many young and middle age persons like my self walking the streets to get turned away ,because they have all they need for the summer . NOT TO MANY ISLANDERS WORKING IN THEM .

  • Bob Barbour
    May 30, 2014 - 10:23

    The shortage is not so much with workers as it is with a shortage of decent employers who will pay a living wage. When you look at it is to the advantage of business to drive down wages and keep them down. What better way to do that than to bring in TFWs who will work for a lower wage. The federal government is helping business keep wages low by keeping the TFW program in operation even though it has been shown that many employers abuse the foreign workers and also Canadian workers by refusing to hire them.

  • Quiet Observer
    May 30, 2014 - 10:11

    “If there’s a 70-year-old person that needs a job… they may not be able to do a certain job, so that’s why you need temporary foreign workers,” Ghiz said. How out of touch with reality is our Premier? If not a 70 year old, then why not a 30 year old, or a 25 year old, or a 20 year old. The TFW program should be scratched completely until employers get over this "pay minimum wage and screw the employees" attitude that prevails, especially in Atlantic Canada. Can't find workers? pay more. We need a Federal (and provincial for that matter) government that will fight for the unemployed, the social assistance recipients, the under employed and all other low income Islanders and Canadians. Ghiz and Harper are exactly the same in their philosophies and arrogance. Cut from the same cloth. We need to be rid of both of them and the TFW program scrapped altogether.

  • Make some sacrafices get to work islanders
    May 30, 2014 - 09:58

    Mr PURSEY makes good valid point .....it also tells me we have islanders who do not want to work at certain jobs and want to draw pogey..yet live an island lifestyle or they refuse to take training to fill certain job classifications.......Why because they have been allowed to do this by successive GOVTS who used Pogey as political patronage..and they EXPECT to only work 6-7 months a year.I see ablebodied men and women who refuse to work labour work, fish plants or farms....not 70 yr olds..20 and 30 yr olds.NO wonder the Feds made the changes to pogey elgibility. As far as Liam Dolan and the other well to do restaurant owners ...pay a half decent wage to your line cooks....not $10- but at least $15-$20..where they can live a decent life.There are places for TFW in specialized occupations but basic labour or low level trades....this program should be contolled more closely.Some islanders have to swallow their pride..and do what the rest of us did...take on jobs that are not that glamourous but they paid the bills and made you realize I need a better job..and need more training....and I have to leave the ISLAND....so I can come BACK with a better ability to make a comfortable living.STOP making excuses for lazy islanders .....stop making it a political issue.....

  • Busted
    May 30, 2014 - 09:27

    Hard to find employees who you can treat like garbage and pay less eh? When the unemployment rate in PEI is so high, hiring TFW's is a way to keep it that way. These businesses are taking advantage of this program, and really, who wouldn't if they could. More money in their pockets and to hell with everyone else. I don't agree with it, but the system is in place to abuse it.

  • Come On
    May 30, 2014 - 09:12

    Come On “If there’s a 70-year-old person that needs a job… they may not be able to do a certain job, so that’s why you need temporary foreign workers,” Ghiz said. I have never heard anything so vain & foolish . At 70 a person shouldn't need a job if this government wasn't so greedy . Raising the costs of everything out of reach + taking income tax off their OAP & CPP . Even the federal government isn't that small & mean . All EI for unskilled labor should be cancelled until Islanders fill these job's . Every one would be better off & I'm not talking about the 70 year old + who is being forced to take part time work to make ends meet .

  • Observer
    May 30, 2014 - 08:58

    It's not that the restaurant needs temporary workers - it's that the owners only want to pay minimum wage. On the other hand, some people only want temporary employment, so it doesn't mess up their EI entitlement to a mid-winter Florida vacation when fishing season is done.

  • Angus
    May 30, 2014 - 08:53

    And people want to fault the Federal government for cleaning up EI? Better to fault the provincial politicians and unions who over the years have encouraged a cycle of defeat that allowed people to collect EI or welfare rather than take an honest job. There was a time folks took any job to support their families and then tried to better themselves. Not today and its because of politicians using social programs to win votes.

  • Fat Tony
    May 30, 2014 - 08:38

    Lazy is the word. American states along the coat in the north east don't have this problem. Why is that? They are not lazy.

  • Mungo
    May 30, 2014 - 08:35

    I hope Islanders will think about this when they next hit the polls. The Harper party is responsible for this gift to corporations at the cost of Canadians.

  • don
    May 30, 2014 - 07:56

    P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says there are some jobs unemployed Islanders are simply not able to perform. “If there’s a 70-year-old person that needs a job… they may not be able to do a certain job, so that’s why you need temporary foreign workers,” Ghiz said. how many 70 year old seniors looking for work? train the young people to do these jobs, but this is sicking our islanders are leaving here to get work out west but tell me how many islanders are trained to work on oil rigs? i hope every islander boycotts the list of names in this paper and forces them to close. you and the owners of theses business makes me sick. you want islanders to buy from them but yet they will not hire islanders and train them. so you and the owners are saying islanders are to dumb to be able to be trained.

  • voter
    May 30, 2014 - 07:33

    “They want them because they can abuse them.” Are foreign workers protected from" Canadian Greed"

  • Cook
    May 30, 2014 - 07:27

    We know why there is a shortage of cooks....$10/hour that's why! Oh, out west they say, I've worked "out west", even the dishwashers make at least $18, and the cooks make more, AND even out west there are tons of temporary foreign workers working all day every day! Temporary my hat! Being displaced doesn't bother me ...temporarily...but permanently and domestically it's what is happening all over this country, try and make sense and get used to it!

  • a
    May 30, 2014 - 07:19

    Please explain why some companies name are redacted.

  • Bob MacDonald
    May 30, 2014 - 07:14

    Burger King and McDonald's can't fill positions? Come on?!?! I know kids in University who can't find jobs and have actually heard of one who was let go because of temporary foreign workers. First they get PNP money and now this, just wow!

    May 30, 2014 - 06:58

    This is unbelievable. Anyone outside PEI reading this would actually think that there are not enough workers on PEI. For every worker brought in there are 10 Islanders denied those same jobs. The workers are here and desperate for work. The list of companies PREFER workers they can control and pay less wages to. I bet if you check this list of companies with the list that received PNP money you would not be surprised. Why pay people a decent wage when you can get the Government to give you workers at slave wages? Before you judge all Islanders as lazy and not wanting to work, Request a poll and you will actually see the large number people turned down for employment here by greedy business owners.

  • Parent of Unemployed youth
    May 30, 2014 - 06:54

    Can't find Canadian cooks? BS! My son applied for a job as a cook in Charlottetown. He even has previous experience. He didn't even get an interview!

  • Good Lord
    May 30, 2014 - 06:22

    P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says there are some jobs unemployed Islanders are simply not able to perform. “If there’s a 70-year-old person that needs a job… they may not be able to do a certain job, so that’s why you need temporary foreign workers,” Ghiz said. 1) IF THERE IS A JOB AN ISLANDER SIMPLY ISN'T ABLE TO PERFORM, YOU TRAIN THEM. 2) A 70 YR OLD PERSON SHOULD BE RETIRED BUT IF A 70 YR OLD PERSON NEEDS A JOB IT IS BECAUSE OF THE FACT THE GHIZ LIBERAL GOVT HAS SCREWED ISLANDERS, AND THE COST OF LIVING IS OFF THE ROOF. 3) IF YOU ARE BRINGING IN TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS BECAUSE 70 YR OLDS CAN'T DO JOBS, ALL I CAN ASK IS ...ARE YOU NUTS? DO YOU THINK ISLANDERS ARE THAT STUPID? TOTAL GHIZ LIBERAL GOVT FAIL.

  • voter
    May 30, 2014 - 06:11

    sounds like ghiz doesn't care about the average islander looking for work--- foreign workers are hurting islanders the same as ghiz is hurting islanders

  • The Sceptic
    May 30, 2014 - 05:55

    Island companys simply refuse to pay a fair wage While they fleece the taxpayers of PEI . Notice that the most profitable business sectors have the most tfws on the list .

  • What's the problem?
    May 30, 2014 - 05:50

    Look, once I have my stamps, do you really expect me to work. C'mon, this whole concern is nuts, let the tfws do the work on farms and in fish plants. I can guarantee you that I will not be doing that, I don't care what they pay me. How do you think we are getting these doctors from all over the world, do you really think PEI is their first choice, let the people come here who want to work and leave us alone.

    • The Truth
      May 30, 2014 - 10:59

      At last , a person telling it like it is . Man I give you credit for having the ba*** to tell the truth . Now if only the rest of the unemployed Islanders had the gut's to also tell the truth , this wouldn't even be a story .