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The Temporary Foreign Worker Program Under Unfair Scrutiny

Over the past few weeks, the federal government has been harshly criticized for its Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Critics claim that the program permits abuse and fraud, and that Canadian citizens and permanent residents are being denied employment opportunities as a result of employers favouring temporary foreign workers, who they then pay at rates lower than the average prevailing wage. As a direct result of this criticism, the program has been modified so that restaurants are no longer able to use the program to fill their labour shortages. Further changes are anticipated, including increased auditing powers for federal inspectors of employers who have applied for Labour Market Opinions, which is the document often required in order to hire foreign workers

The actions taken by the government are reactionary and poorly planned. They place blame for deficiencies in the program on employers, instead of acknowledging that the government’s execution of the program has been inconsistent and unpredictable.

Employers would prefer to employ Canadian citizens and permanent residents rather than recruit foreign workers. The process to apply for a Labour Market Opinion is labour intensive, expensive and time consuming. In some cases, employers must pay their foreign workers more than their Canadian counterparts, since they are required to pay the “average prevailing wage rate”. This published rate sometimes does not reflect business realities, since it does not take into consideration the countless variables and experience levels that occur within a single job description. If employers were able to fill a position locally, without inviting the governmental scrutiny, increased auditing responsibilities, and additional expense associated with participation in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, they would readily do so.

However, the reality is that in order for many employers to remain competitive, or even viable, they must hire individuals from outside of Canada, as they are not able to find individuals with the requisite skill set within Canada. Before offering an employment position to a foreign worker, they must demonstrate that they have attempted to locate Canadians or Canadian permanent residents.The standards to demonstrate this labour market shortage are dictated by the federal government. It is their argument that these standards are objective, and that once employers have followed their stringent recruitment procedures, a labour market shortage has been identified and hiring a foreign worker is justified. It is unfair for the government to now penalize an entire industry sector, in this case the restaurant industry, arguing that the recruitment practices in place are insufficient, when it is the federal government’s required recruitment practices that are being followed in the first place.

If individual employers are abusing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program by not adhering to the employment standards represented on their applications for Labour Market Opinions, indeed, they should be reported and punished accordingly. If it is demonstrated that there is no labour market shortage for a position when previously it was thought that there was, then indeed, the recruitment standards should be modified so that employers are able to effectively demonstrate their inability to locate suitable Canadian candidates. However, to implement a ban on all restaurants hiring foreign workers as a reaction to a few disgruntled employees and a lot of media attention unfairly punishes those restaurants who have adhered to the federal government’s standards in good faith. These reactionary measures will unfortunately result in some restaurants’ inability to conduct their business… not to mention the potential inability of some rural communities across the country to enjoy an authentically prepared tagine!