High unemployment rate, foreign workers don't mix: Kenney

Teresa Wright
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Employers must work harder to attract local workers to address labour shortages, says federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney

Employers will have to work harder to attract local workers to address labour shortage concerns, especially in areas of high unemployment, says Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

The federal jobs minister was in Charlottetown Friday to meet with labour ministers from across the country and to hear from them for the first time since sweeping changes to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program were announced three weeks ago.

P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach says he and his counterparts raised a number of concerns about the reforms during this meeting.

“Many expressed that they are extremely concerned about the direct impact these changes will have on their industries,” Roach said.

Kenney responded Friday he would be willing to make some special local exemptions to the reforms, but only in small areas whose local unemployment rates do not reflect the rate of their federally recognized EI region.

Overall his message was clear – employers in areas of high unemployment will have to do more to attract local workers to fill their job vacancies.

He encouraged employers to ‘redouble their efforts,’ consider offering additional incentives, such as increased salaries, more flexible shifts or more transportation options to bring in workers from different areas.

“We think those options are all preferable than picking up the phone and calling a labour recruiter on the other side of the world and having someone fly in from a developing country into a region of double-digit unemployment.”

The TFW changes are raising serious concern among those in P.E.I.’s lobster industry, as the province’s seafood processors have long been heavy users of migrant workers in lobster processing plants.

This spring, a shortage of temporary foreign workers led to quotas being imposed on lobster fishermen during the Island’s limited three-month spring fishing season.

Fishermen and processors say even more restricted access to migrant workers could have far-reaching impacts on the province’s entire lobster industry, which makes up the lion’s share of one of P.E.I.’s three biggest industries – fishing.

But Kenney says regardless of the industry in question, high unemployment rates and temporary foreign workers don’t mix.

“Let’s just put it this way, I would hope that any part of Canada with double-digit unemployment through much of the year, that we can get those Canadians to take those available jobs as opposed to bringing people in from abroad,” Kenney said.

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.

Nonetheless, the number of temporaryforeign workers being sought by P.E.I. companies has more than quadrupled in the last decade.

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

But Roach says it’s not as simple as telling someone drawing EI to work in a fish plant.

“(Kenney) did point out in our meeting today that there is a community in Prince Edward Island that has upwards of 300 people that are unemployed, but I think just to take those numbers is making a large assumption that those people are all capable to work in a seafood processing plant,” Roach said.

He has asked Kenney to go back and reexamine the evidence to support the need for the TFW changes to apply in P.E.I.

Kenney agreed.

The federal minister acknowledged, however, his government’s controversial employment insurance reforms and the sweeping changes announced last month to the temporary foreign worker program were done to address areas of high unemployment, like P.E.I., bringing in an increasing number of migrant workers.

Kenney called this an ‘aberration’ that does not make sense.

“You either have a labour shortage or a labour surplus. You can’t have both at the same time in the same place,” Kenney said.

He announced Friday a new job matching service will be implemented later this year that will inform EI claimants of any available jobs in their area. This will also try to match employers in need of workers with those looking for employment. 

 twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Trucker Blues
    July 14, 2014 - 09:47

    This ? Temporary Foreign Workers ? deal is a sick joke. I was in Jamaica last year and the Bus Driver was also a Tractor Trailer driver. The next week he was leaving for Calgary under this program to spend 3 summer months in Tractor Trailer training all expenses paid including 4 months housing and a guaranteed job running trailers in Alberta & BC. A guy who never drove in Snow nor will be trained in Snow conditions. SOOO you can't tell me a Canadian would not want a high paying Alberta truck driving job and once again, a Canadian loses a seat at the earning table. As a driver myself I was livid tax payers would fund such an unfair scheme.

  • Frenchie
    July 14, 2014 - 09:17

    PEI is not the only province with this problem. In Ontario a welder can't get a decent wage because Temporary Foreign Workers are imported from Mexico and work for a fraction of a local welder. That same local welding shop can't compete with the bidder using Temporary Foreign Workers. Its an unfair subsidy anyway you cut it. Now if you go to Alberta as an out-of-province worker you'll find yourself replaced by cheap Russian or Italian workers. You can run but you can't hide. the cancer called the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has to be surgically removed or we all suffer, anywhere in Canada, and the fat cats can live with less profit because this is what its all about, "PROFIT NOT A SHORTAGE OF WORKERS". Shame on any Politician that continues this reckless program.

  • Lester
    July 13, 2014 - 09:00

    Not too long ago the "Temporary Foreign Workers" programs were called Slavery. What else would you call it when Lobster & Fish Baron's import people from impoverished lands because they can pay them less than a liveable local wage and stack them in sweat shop like hostels. Corporations and business owners abused this program across the country from the oil fields to coffee shops to the fisheries.......end corruption - boycott unethical seafood.....or get used to slave trading when it steals your job.

  • big mouth don
    July 13, 2014 - 07:52

    Kenny should be looking at cutting back lobster fishermen to only one EI claim like the rest of us . Why should a fisherman get 2 EI claims in the same year and then get 2 more for his wife and another for the helper which is also likley a family member .They are taking mostly five EI claims per boat and their are 1269 lobster boats . Sales based fishing EI is being used as an income supplement as a condition of buying a lobster licence .

    • Jim
      July 14, 2014 - 08:49

      And the guy in Fort Mac working his behind off in a full time job is paying for a lobster boat full of PEI EI welfare. A Commercial fisherman should be treated like any other business, not like an addict hooked on social programs. Close the doors on these loop holes before we bankrupt the country.

    • Salim
      July 14, 2014 - 09:06

      Where are the great defenders of the working class like the NDP or Trudeau in this issue? Canada imports and takes advantage of needy workers that are pawns of Businesses. They need representation such as Union's and Contracts. Where is the NDP in protecting these jobs for Canadian workers not APAC or EURO contractors with predatory employment placement agencies working side by side with PnP cronies. The Fishery alone is a carnival of shady subsidies but wait until you take a look at the Energy sector as those PEI folks who went to Alberta to get a real job, lose it to Temporary Foreign Workers there to. STOP importing CHEAP labor until EVERYONE has a decent job.

  • mr.nobody
    July 13, 2014 - 06:49

    Just so all of you understand. This is a continuation of the Conservative goal of fracturing the opposition. First it was east coast versus west coast, then people with permanent jobs turning on those lazy seasonal workers, and coming soon...urban versus rural..with the new rule changes. You are too stupid to realize you are being played by Harper et al. The real problem is the facist attitudes of those in power. We are being railroaded by our elected leaders both here and in Ottawa. But don't worry..this posturing has at least allowed you people FORTUNATE enough to have full time , year round employment to feel superior to those lazy seasonal workers who help grow your food, and fix your roads, and serve you in restaurants. Shame on all of you.

  • mr.nobody
    July 13, 2014 - 06:48

    Just so all of you understand. This is a continuation of the Conservative goal of fracturing the opposition. First it was east coast versus west coast, then people with permanent jobs turning on those lazy seasonal workers, and coming soon...urban versus rural..with the new rule changes. You are too stupid to realize you are being played by Harper et al. The real problem is the facist attitudes of those in power. We are being railroaded by our elected leaders both here and in Ottawa. But don't worry..this posturing has at least allowed you people FORTUNATE enough to have full time , year round employment to feel superior to those lazy seasonal workers who help grow your food, and fix your roads, and serve you in restaurants. Shame on all of you.

  • Larry
    July 12, 2014 - 20:21

    The conditions as described in the fish plants are such that they would not be allowed to operation in Europe. Ergonomics is first and foremost in permits to employee people. If the fish plants became modern and humane, workers would flock to them. First of all heated floors are a must, next would be the most modern work tables and seating arrangement, and last but not least a living wage and reasonable work hours. This old fashioned idea that a certain class of people just have to suffer for a few months and then lay about the rest of the year supported by the people that work year round and never claim EI., is not valid any longer. The Harper Government via Jason Kenny is to be commended for trying to change this unsustainable practise. If Kenny succeeded in establishing a European style apprentice system, Canada could be a real success story.

  • Corey
    July 12, 2014 - 19:29

    Excellent! Finally a politician I can back! Give Canadians, Canadian jobs. Anyone who's too good for a certain job when they're on EI, NEEDS A REALITY CHECK! Not an EI CHEQUE. SHFW needs to be implemented. (Stay home foreign workers)

  • Islanders First
    July 12, 2014 - 19:23

    Not only do Islanders not take the jobs, drain money off EI, but the money earned by TFW is taken out of PEI (and Canada) leaving our local economy poorer (business people definitely hurting each other doing this). It's not a good thing at all for PEI (or other places in Canada). The only thing it seems to be good for is the company owner who takes more out of his business for himself because (s)he doesn't have to pay the staff decent wages.

  • Steven
    July 12, 2014 - 18:25

    I believe it's time for our residents in the Maritime provinces to loose the "victim" mentality. I'm a young entrepreneur under 30 from charlottetown and It time to move forward with a positive mindset and stop living in a "have not" world that we create. The provincial government just wants to point fingers at everyone else for its own problems that is it's to resolve. The provincial government has been frauding the federal UI for years with there own workers, they have created this issue in our minds and doesn't want to take responsibility. An example is the two terms they used to hire for road maintenance province wide ever summer just up to 3 years ago and were pressured from the feds to hire one term at a longer period to cut in half the amount of people applying for unemployment insurance. Used to be 2 terms with different workers that were 12 weeks long, now there is 1 term that is 16-20 weeks I believe. Time to change our vision of our province and our region in general.

  • taylor
    July 12, 2014 - 16:42

    I loathe the conservatives but kenny got one right this time. Business groups are crying afoul. They should spend the money theyre blowing on lobbying, buy some housing stock and some buses to get unemployed to their "labor shortage". Is it not common sense that the unemployed have not enough resources to move?

  • mt
    July 12, 2014 - 16:19

    Lets face it, the chronic users of ei will never change until the government forces them to do so . The thinking of working for minimum wage not being enough to live on just does not make sense, a person making $15 per hour then going on ei makes less take home pay than a minimum wage job, not even taking in the tax implications. The number of fellow employees that I have heard say that they will not work for minimum wage after their stamps are filled is crazy, and so I have deduced that they are either lazy or unable to do simple math. The tfw program is filling position that Canadians and specifically Islanders feel that are beneath them. Just do the math folks and get off you A***S. If not, stop complaining and do something about it, take those unskilled minimum wage jobs and support your family, like every other Canadian that can do basic math and does not have an entitlement attitude.

    • Michael Cowtan
      July 13, 2014 - 07:04

      What you are proving, is not that people are lazy, but that this "minimum wage job" is not really a minimum wage job, but that employers, capitalists every one of them, are trying to circumvent the normal laws of supply and demand.

    • aaron
      July 13, 2014 - 09:21

      let's also face the fact that min wage is a JOKE,, you cannot LIVE on that wage... if they would just raise the wage, Canadians would fill those jobs... we are literally talking about a few thousand dollars per employee.. if a business cant absorb the cost of paying someone a wage they can live off of,, then that business should fail. They always cry about taxes.. when all they do is blow that saved money on luxuries and bonuses for a very few.

  • Kevin
    July 12, 2014 - 14:23

    "Nonetheless, the number of temporaryforeign workers being sought by P.E.I. companies has more than quadrupled in the last decade." Fire them all. The government can't afford to put every canadian on welfare because TFW's are prefered to them. The Elected Officials are here to protect us , not Sc** us over. Get rid of the TFW's.

  • Bob MacDonald
    July 12, 2014 - 11:46

    Minister Kenny said "“Let’s just put it this way, I would hope that any part of Canada with double-digit unemployment through much of the year, that we can get those Canadians to take those available jobs as opposed to bringing people in from abroad,” Seems like a pretty common sense approach to me. Governments tend to listen a little too much to businesses because they are the ones that actually create jobs but often forget they will lie (quite often) when it suits their needs or bottom line. It really was ridiculous in the first place that business especially fast food restaurants in the Charlottetown area were able to tap into this program in the first place. Most of these guys are pretty rich now and should really be ashamed of themselves. Decisions that businesses are making now are going to come back to haunt us for years down the road.

    • Garth Staples
      July 12, 2014 - 14:06

      Have you been beyond the NB border?

  • same story
    July 12, 2014 - 09:06

    Ghoulman you are a clown . What Kenny said is true, live with it Islanders and start working at something other than flagging and picking weeds from between cracks in concrete!

  • townie22
    July 12, 2014 - 09:06

    too bad Minister Kenney didn't do the "undercover boss" thing and try a few 12-14 hour shifts in a seafood processing plant or doing road construction.

  • Ghoulman
    July 12, 2014 - 08:19

    Ho ho! Minister Kenny comes out against his own legislation? Priceless. His ministry brought this legislation out in 2006, since then the number of 'TFWs" (Temporary Foreign Workers) jumped to over the number of actual immigrants in this country. On PEI alone, as farming and fishing are our two main industries, TFMs were immediately brought in by the boat load. Then unemployment on PEI hit an odd plateau. Then Tories started calling Maritimers "a culture of defeat" (blaming the victim!). Now, when people can look in hindsight and wonder if this isn't really a problem directly caused by a conservative government making a sweet deal for corporations, a legal wave off of workers rights to, you know, like, minimum wage, etc. and this angers their base because "Forieners takin' ur jabs" they send out the Employment Minister to speak out in complete contradiction to the very law he signed off on!?! Like I say, priceless.

    • Bob MacDonald
      July 12, 2014 - 11:52

      I don't believe the program was set up to be used in the way it is now. Much like the PNP program Island businesses found loopholes and used it to their advantage and to the disadvantage of ordinary Islanders. If they could use their imagination to simply improve their businesses instead of figuring out how to live off the government this province might not be a have-not-province.

    • get it straight
      July 12, 2014 - 14:44

      constantly incorrect Ghoulman, continues to post comments that demonstrate how ill-informed he really is, the TFW program was introduced in 2002 , it has grown into something it was never meant to be, we ca't blame business for exploiting a system that worked in their advantage but we do expect government to fix things when the system is broken, well done Minister Kenney

    • Garth Staples
      July 12, 2014 - 19:09

      Ghoulman---- Wrong again. It was a Liberal Govt that introduced the TFW programme. Finally we have a Conservative Minister who understands the folly of TWP in an area with 11% unemployment.

  • I see!
    July 12, 2014 - 08:10

    Makes sense!

  • Try As They Like
    July 12, 2014 - 08:01

    PEI can try as they like to justify islanders not working & drawing EI . It just doesn't fly in the eye of common sense . Fact is , if you need work & there is a job empty , you should be forced to take it or do with out EI . Common sense .

    • Bob MacDonald
      July 12, 2014 - 11:49

      Not sure if you are from away or not but you might be surprised to find out most Islanders agree with you.

    • mike
      July 12, 2014 - 16:21

      So you say that if there is a job we should be forced to take it. So if a vet cant find a job but their is a fast food job open they should take it. What if its 100 KM away and only min wage. I think if its in their field of work. Then they should take it if its around the same they were getting. and also a short drive 25-30 KM not 100.

    • Dave
      July 12, 2014 - 22:43

      Because that scenario is happening so often Mike..............There will always be an excuse if you want to find it.