Employers say temporary foreign worker figures are not accurate

posted on September 26, 2014

By Renata D’Aliesio and Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Renata D’Aliesio and Joe Friesen, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

More than 2,500 Canadian employers turned to temporary foreign labourers to fill one-third or more of their work force last year, government documents contend, from fish-processing plants on the East Coast and IT businesses in Ontario to hotels in Alberta – and even a cafeteria on a First Nation with eye-popping unemployment.

The list of employers, produced by the federal Employment Department and released to The Globe and Mail through access-to-information legislation, includes some prominent business players, such as Calgary-based Shaw Cablesystems and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, State Street Trust Company Canada and the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee in Toronto, where the jobless rate was 10 per cent in December, 2013.

But six employers contacted by The Globe on Thursday contended the information is inaccurate, raising questions about the accuracy of some of the data the government used to support its case for sweeping reforms to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program. The federal list is set to become political fodder in Alberta on Friday, when the Alberta Federation of Labour plans to release a copy that it obtained through a separate information request.

“There are lots of employers using the program very aggressively,” said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan. “A lot of these [TFW] jobs are some of the best in our economy and we shouldn’t be cavalier about allowing them to slip through our fingers.”

Three of the largest employers included on the list said the figures were not accurate.

Shaw Cablesystems, which was listed as employing 4,354 temporary foreign workers (more than 30 per cent of its work force), said it had provided incorrect figures to Employment and Social Development Canada. The correct figure is 169 TFWs, or one per cent of its work force, the company said in a statement.

Financial-services firm State Street Trust said the figure associated with its Canadian operations does not seem accurate. The company is listed as having 1,244 TFWs, but said it has only 1,250 total employees in Canada, of which less than 4 per cent are foreign workers.

A spokeswoman for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting and professional service firm, said its TFW number “looks quite inaccurate.” She couldn’t provide specifics, but said the true number is “much less.”

Pan Am organizing committee spokeswoman Neala Barton said internal records show the group employed 18 temporary foreign labourers in July, 2013 – 13 per cent of its overall full-time staff of 140 and far fewer than the 167 TFWs reported on the federal government document.

The organizing committee now has 50 foreign workers on its staff of 424. They were hired after extensive searches were done to find Canadians to fill the positions, Ms. Barton said.

Employers on the government’s list have not been named until now. Employment Minister Jason Kenney chastised these business owners in June as he introduced new restrictions on low-wage jobs, capping foreign workers to 10 per cent of a company’s work force.

“The purpose of the program is to be a last, limited, temporary resort, not a business model,” Mr. Kenney said then.

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