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Airdrie Chamber of Commerce opposes changes to Temporary Foreign Worker Program

By: Christina Waldner

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 10:43 am

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Changes to the Government of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) introduced on June 20, will have a negative impact on some Airdrie businesses, according to Linda Bruce, chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee and second vice president of the board of directors of the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce.

“We do have local businesses that participate in the TFWP and we all know it’s very, very difficult, everyone is struggling to find employees,” she said. “None of (the businesses) are using them as their predominant workforce. These are just businesses that need the extra bodies so they can provide appropriate shifting for all their employees, and those are positions that they just simply have not been able to fill locally.”

The latest statistics compiled by the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce are from 2012 when there were 255 temporary foreign workers in Airdrie. The majority of these, 120, were from the Philippines.

According to Bruce, the changes will hinder the ability of businesses in Airdrie to provide the kind of service they want to their consumers as well.

“What you start to see is the inability for them to be open the hours their customers want to see and it starts to effect them financially,” she explained. “They are also unable to support the local community in ways that they do, for example through supporting teams and being there for not-for-profit organizations. It’s really important. It starts to break down the fabric of your community when you have businesses that can’t perform their (services).”

The reason the Federal Government gave for the overhaul to the TFWP was to encourage businesses to employ more Canadians. Wild Rose MP Blake Richards said the point of the changes is to ensure Canadians are given first chance at jobs.

“The point of the whole thing is to ensure that the program is working as it’s intended,” he said. “Some of the changes are geared at ensuring businesses are offering those opportunities to Canadians first and foremost. Secondly, to ensure in areas like Alberta, where we’ve got a very low unemployment rate, the program is something that’s available for employers who need to fill those gaps in their labour (force).”

Bruce said it costs approximately $14,000 per worker for a business to participate in the TFWP, including application fees and the cost to fly them to Canada and set them up. This amount is likely to increase as employers will now pay a $1,000 application fee per worker per year, up from the $275 they used to pay per worker every two years.

Richards said there is always a learning curve when changes are implemented.

“I know that any time that there’s changes, there’s going to those who are resistant to change, but the bottom line is we need to ensure the program is available to those Canadians who really need it,” he said.

The length of time a temporary foreign worker will be allowed to stay in Canada has changed. The maximum length of time a worker can stay has been reduced to two years from four.

There is also a limit on the number of temporary foreign workers a business can employ; the Federal Government has set this limit at 10 per cent of the business’ workforce. The Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC) said this will severely impact businesses in rural communities who may be forced to scale back their activities or shut down completely.

The hospitality sector is the one being most affected by the program changes, according to Bruce. The impact won’t be felt just by the large chains or franchises, according to Bruce, “so-called Ma-and-Pop businesses also struggle to find enough employees.”

Bruce said the solution isn’t raising wages. Increased wages will not attract Canadians to these kinds of jobs, in her opinion.

“Work with businesses so you can ensure wages are going up appropriately,” she said. “Monitor that, stay on top of that. But at the same time of trying to balance all of this, make sure you’re not hurting the people this program was supposed to help, that is, small businesses.”

The ACC is advocating that solutions to the TFWP be applied regionally. In a statement released on June 20, the ACC said “restrictions of this scale should be imposed upon provinces of higher unemployment, while provinces with exceptionally low unemployment, such as Alberta, should have greater access to this important labour source.”

According to the Government of Canada, Alberta had the highest number of low-wage temporary foreign workers in the country in 2013 at 14,307. B.C. is next at 5,227.

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