A tougher road to foreign worker recruitment

posted on September 23, 2014

By Jeffrey R. Smith, Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

By Jeffrey R. Smith, Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

It’s been a couple of months since the federal government announced a major overhaul to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). We’re still in a transition period and there are some kinks to be worked out, so the true effect of these changes is yet to be determined.

Some of the more significant changes involve a move from labour market opinions (LMOs) based on specific occupational classifications to labour market impact assessments based on actual labour market data and more stringent requirements for employers to look for Canadian workers first; and a differentiation between high- and low-wage temporary foreign workers.

The changes came in the wake of practices by some employers who were abusing the TFWP. In some of these cases, foreign workers were being paid much less than they should have been, and in others it was questionable employers had met the requirement to try to fill positions with Canadian workers before going the foreign worker route. The feds decided it was time to make things a little harder to bring in foreign workers and protect the Canadian labour force.

Indeed, it seems it’s now noticeably more difficult for employers to recruit foreign workers, as they have to provide more information and proof that reasonable efforts have been made to recruit Canadians before resorting to workers from other countries, and the feds themselves will check into the availability of Canadian workers. Also, the government has addressed the controversy over exploited lower-pay and lower-skilled foreign workers by limiting the proportion of low-wage foreign workers — those earning below the median wage in the particular province or territory.

Though it’s still a little early to see how the changes will affect the labour market and Canadian employers, one impact has become immediately clear — there are a lot fewer people applying for temporary foreign worker status.

The federal Employment and Social Development department recently announced foreign worker applications for July and August were 74 per cent lower than for the same period in 2012. And there’s no way of knowing how many workers have been saved from exploitation — though that can be hard to track because it often happens under the table.

However, some employers have expressed concern that without a steady influx of foreign workers, it will be hard to do business. In some industries and area, there just isn’t enough Canadian workers to meet labour market needs. In Western Canada, some industries have a shortage of skilled labour and they just can’t find Canadian talent.

And I mentioned in an earlier blog how the Canada Meat Council and Canadian Cattlemen’s Association complained there wasn’t enough Canadians to staff meat plants and keep them competitive. Industries like that which are dependent on foreign workers as a large part of their workforce are now facing greater obstacles to doing business.

Are the federal changes to the temporary foreign worker program too broad of a brush and a too-hasty response to a few isolated problems? What can employers in industries who rely on foreign workers because of a dearth of Canadian options do? Will the more complicated and lengthy process of recruiting foreign workers be an obstacle to meeting the demands of their businesses?

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