Foreign worker program changes not enough: NLFL

Andrew Robinson
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Labour group calls for increased immigration, more training opportunities

The federal government’s plan to reform the temporary foreign workers program is not receiving rave reviews from a local labour organization.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) is calling government’s attempt to rescue the program deeply flawed and suggests it needs to be replaced by a new program.

Mary Shortall. — Western Star file photo

“What it does is limit the number of temporary foreign workers, it costs employers more money to have them, and they’re there for a shorter period of time, but in our opinion, that’s not what the issue is,” said NLFL president Mary Shortall.

“The issue is that these migrant workers are being used because they’ve created a low-wage economy and the government is just catering to the employers like Tim Hortons, like McDonald’s, who make huge profits, who are still going to be able to access temporary foreign workers, yet there’s a million Canadians unemployed out there.”

How much companies in the food service industry will be able to make use of the program in Newfoundland and Labrador in the years ahead is up for debate.

Under the proposed reforms, applications for the lowest-wage and lowest-skill positions at an entry level will be barred from the program in areas of high unemployment — defined as six per cent or higher.

While the provincial unemployment rate has fallen considerably in Newfoundland and Labrador compared to where it was five years ago, Newfoundland and Labrador still has one of the highest rates in Canada. Last month’s rate for the province was 12.7 per cent, second highest among all Canadian provinces. For St. John’s in May, it was 6.4 per cent.

“Why is it with an unemployment rate like we have that they’re asking for (temporary foreign workers) in the first place?” Shortall asked.

The term for low-wage workers will be reduced from two years to one. A low wage will be defined as a salary that falls below the provincial median.

A 10 per cent cap will also be in place for employers with low-wage temporary workers. A transition period will allow employers to maintain a 30 per cent level for now and 20 per cent as of July 1, 2015. The 10 per cent rule will come into effect a year later.

If inability to access the program forces consumers to pay more for products and services to allow  employers to offer higher wages to attract Canadians needing work, Shortall said that will be good for the economy.

“We’ve created this low-wage economy, and there’s an expectation that those jobs can be filled by people who can work for less than they need to survive.”

Shortall said there is an obvious need for migrant workers in Canada. She suggests training programs and skill-matching exercises will prove beneficial if introduced. In light of Newfoundland and Labrador’s stagnant birth rate, Shortall said the province ultimately needs more immigrants.

“So why not just have the provincial government and the federal government work together and create residencies and not temporary workers who come in for permanent jobs?”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Robert M.
    June 23, 2014 - 15:44

    As regards your piece , further information how this "fix" is just smoke and mirrors....

  • Who Care
    June 23, 2014 - 14:02

    Who care, we got nothing lift, so just has as will, lets them have the rest.

  • John Young
    June 23, 2014 - 09:15

    @ Randy, First of all, My grandson, work at McDonalds, he was on full time, But his hours was cut, to make room for a foreign worker, Explain this to me, why did this happen? I can tell you, lack of respect for ours own.

  • Randy
    June 23, 2014 - 05:07

    Why is it that everyone is talking all around the issue but won't zero in on the real issue. Employers bring in foreign workers because they actually get a days work out of them. If you talk frankly to employers you will find that they would be happy to pay foreign workers more than local workers. There was a time when companies like McDonalds and Tim Hortons would put new employees through a training program of up to a week or more, they can't do that any more because the majority of these workers don't last long enough to warrant the investment. They quit without notice, they don't show up for work and don't call in, they know nothing about service, i.e. treating customers with respect. Go to Tim's and say thank you... you're lucky if you get a grunt much less a "you're welcome. We are in big trouble as a society!!!

    • Samuel J.
      June 23, 2014 - 09:13

      Your approach to this issue Randy - like that of Cathy Bennett - is typically what can be found among franchise owners and chain store operators in this province. Let me add a point or two to my post to the previous article on this subject. Yes companies in this province are facing greater employee relations challenges in the present economic environment than they did even five or ten years ago. We have gone from a buyer's market for labour to a seller's market as a result of oil and gas. Where employers could once dictate the terms under which they would hire casual labour - and people desperate for work would have to comply - that shoe is almost on the other foot now. Rather than deal with that reality, companies with large number of outlets across the country (owned or franchised) had thought they'd found a way to by-pass the local labour market. It was so much simpler and cheaper to bring in foreign workers who would work for minimum wage and be glad of it (which is hardly surprising considering the conditions that exist in their home environments). By allowing companies to side-step local labour, governments are inadvertently placing a strain on the UI system, welfare and other social safety-net programs. There is one other major anomaly that continues to exist in the hospitality, retail trade sector and which has contributed to the very problems that Randy cites. Typically these organizations provide less than 20 hours of work per week. They do so in order to avoid triggering certain other legislated obligations to employees. Because of those rules, McDonald's has concluded that it is far cheaper to hire four young people for ten hours a week than one person for 40 hours per week. As an independent small business owner, I do not! All of my workers are full time. In part it is because of that, and in part because I pay them more than McDonalds for the same skill sets, that they have much more loyalty to me. Yes it costs me more - and no, I don't enjoy the same profits as McDonald's or Tim's, but what government refuses to acknowledge in their policies and their attitudes toward business is that companies like mine are the real backbone of this province - not McDonald's, Tim's, Costco, Walmart, Target....and on and on. What little profits I earn stay in this province. Not so with these others where royalties and profits are exported out of the country. So if you are looking for sympathy here on the pages of the Telegram Randy, I think you should first go work for a week (or for the 10 hours work you can get in a week) in one of those robotic-like environments that sling those same tasteless, unwholesome burgers and fries or peddle the latest crap from China for $10.50 an hour.

    • RATTER 01
      June 23, 2014 - 09:44

      I totally agree with you Randy. Not only do they have excellent work ethics but they are friendly, helpful and always happy. This should be a wake up call to those Newfoundlanders too lazy to work or would rather stay on the welfare.

  • Charles Murphy
    June 23, 2014 - 05:06

    Do we need foreign workers, good question? But here my question, I know a person who work for four years at one of those fast food joint, But one day that person was replace by a foreign worker, Tell me, after years of service to this business, would you say its was right to be let go? Now this person family had to leave the province, to look for work. Like many more had to do, You tell me, " Do we need Foreign workers ". Take care of our own first.