By Erin McGrath-Gaudet (commentary)
It’s been troubling to watch the explosion of dialogue over Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). Since the exposure of a handful of alleged abuses in the west, rhetoric from union bosses and a fundamental misunderstanding of the program, and the problems it is designed to address, have played into some of the worst of our collective national attitudes.
Yes, there are likely situations where rules are broken. CFIB members take this very seriously and have said Canadians should always have the first crack at jobs and any abuse should be dealt with severely but slamming the door indefinitely on an entire sector will have dire consequences for many small business owners who have done absolutely nothing wrong.
Placing a moratorium on the food services sector is unfair and potentially devastating to hundreds of small enterprises. Had Minister Kenney shut down Employment Insurance for an entire sector because of the rumored abuse of a few, imagine the cataclysm. However because the targets in this case are small businesses owners: too bad, so sad.
The TFWP ballooned over the past number of years because employers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire workers with either appropriate skills or a willingness to take on specialized shift work. Simply put, many Canadians either can’t do or don’t want those jobs. The TFWP isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom of a deeper issue: the Canadian market is not meeting the needs of small businesses desperate for labour.
Using the TFWP is bureaucratic and it’s not cheap. Employers must first prove they can’t find a Canadian to do the job. They must also pay the industry average wage and often the TFW is paid more than a Canadian worker. Contrary to what is often assumed, they must not pay the TFW less than they pay their other workers nor is it possible to pay less than the minimum wage. The employer must pay return airfare for the worker to their home country, a $275 non-refundable application fee to government and, often, fees to a recruiting agency to help find the foreign worker. The entire process requires about a 2 inch thick binder of evidence and can take five months to get approvals.
Believe it, if there was an alternative, employers would gladly use it. The hospitality industry, currently being punished with this moratorium, already hires Canadians 98 per cent of the time, this firestorm is over two per cent of workers. Unfortunately, most of the employees perceived to be TFWs are actually new Canadian citizens or permanent residents. As a result of the skewing of this narrative, landed immigrants, permanent residents and others “from away” are being unfairly characterized and mistreated by people who see their presence as an economic threat.
The TFWP is not perfect but this does not mean the vast majority, those playing by the rules, should be punished so severely for the misbehavior of a few. What is even more worrisome is many new Canadians are being made to feel unwelcome because of what appears to be an organized campaign of half-truths.
Do not shut down this program, fix it … and soon. CFIB has many recommendation including using this program as a point of entry for permanent residency and rethinking the bias in the immigration system against people coming to Canada to fill entry level jobs. Undermining the efforts of small businesses and creating friction between Canadians and new or potential citizens is not helping.
Erin McGrath-Gaudet is the Director for P.E.I. and Intergovernmental Policy for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. CFIB is Canada’s largest association of small- and medium-sized businesses with 109,000 members across every sector and region.