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Ottawa to close 15% wage gap for temporary foreign workers




Tobi Cohen

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Calgary Herald

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OTTAWA - The federal government says it will drop the 15-per-cent wage differential for foreign workers introduced in the last budget and temporarily suspend a controversial fast-track process in a bid to fix Canada's ailing temporary foreign worker program.

Effective immediately, employers will have to pay temporary foreign workers at the same level as Canadian workers doing comparable work.

The Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process introduced last year to speed up the issuing of work permits was meant to better meet labour market demand in high skilled fields. Now, that will also be suspended pending a review of the program to make sure it's not been used to fill low-skill service jobs at, for example, Tim Hortons.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley made the announcement Monday, shortly after the government introduced its budget-implementation bill.

The overhaul will include regulatory and administrative reforms as well as legislative changes contained in the budget that require the approval of Parliament.

"Canada is experiencing significant skills shortages in many sectors and regions, and Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities when they become available," Finley said.

"The purpose of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to help fill genuine and acute labour needs and we have been reviewing the program to ensure that goal is met and Canadian workers are never displaced."

The government has also introduced changes that will allow officials to suspend or revoke work permits and labour market opinions. The latter essentially paves the way for work permits to be issued where, indeed, there is a shortage of Canadian workers.

In the wake of a recent instance in which Royal Bank of Canada employees found themselves training temporary foreign workers to take over their jobs, the government announced it would also add new questions to employer applications to ensure the program isn't being used to outsource Canadian jobs.

The reforms are in addition to several already laid out in the 2013 budget.

Employers will also need to broaden the length and reach of job postings and produce a plan for transitioning to a Canadian workforce over time when applying for permits under the program.

New user fees for employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers are also expected to offset costs currently absorbed by taxpayers.

The government is also taking steps to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations so that companies cannot make knowledge of a language other than French or English a requirement when hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.

"These reforms will require that greater efforts be made to recruit and train Canadians to fill available jobs," Kenney said.

"They will also help ensure the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is only used as intended - to fill acute skills shortages on a temporary basis."

While agricultural employers could see permits revoked if companies are found to have misused the program, seasonal agricultural workers will otherwise be unaffected by the reforms.

An ongoing review of the program that began in fall 2011 will continue, officials said Monday, and more reforms are expected this fall, following a second round of consultations with businesses, trade organizations, unions and other stakeholders.

The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada swelled to 338,189 last year, up from 179,800 in 2003. By comparison, Canada welcomed just 257,515 immigrants in 2012, 160,000 of whom were federal skilled workers. Critics argue this is proof there's been an increased reliance on temporary labour at the expense of immigration. Permanent residency comes with certain rights and privileges that do not exist for temporary workers.

Critics have also complained about the pay differential, arguing it drives down wages and working conditions for all workers. Many have also raised concerns about unfair treatment of foreign workers by some employers when it comes to wages, working and living conditions.

Commonly used in the agricultural sector, as few Canadians are interested in such seasonal, manual-labour jobs, the program has increasingly been used to fill vacancies in the food services industry, particularly in the west where Canadian workers are, reportedly, not interested in Tim Hortons jobs.

The government has also come under fire for issuing temporary foreign worker permits to iGate, the IT contractor hired by the Royal Bank that decided to outsource jobs that were being performed by Canadian bank workers.

A recent incident involving a British Columbia company that hired 201 Chinese miners instead of Canadians also highlighted the need for change, and Canadian pilots have for years complained that charter airlines have been hiring foreign pilots for the busy sun-destination season at the expense of unemployed and underemployed Canadian pilots because they didn't want to pay for training on their particular brand of aircraft.



© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald


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