The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has remained steadfast in its efforts to ensure upcoming federal temporary foreign worker program reforms will meet the industry's needs.
“The CCA has been doing what other employer groups have been trying to do — trying to ensure government does not close the door on temporary foreign worker use for skilled occupations, where there are no Canadian permanent workers in that area and we want to see an expedited process,” said Michael Atkinson, CCA president.
The recent media furor over temporary foreign worker abuses in the fast-food sector has left the Canadian government trying to address problem areas with the program.
The federal government announced a moratorium on access to temporary foreign workers for the restaurant sector.
“It is a political hot-potato and the government has made changes and more are coming,” noted Atkinson at CCA’s recent board of directors meeting in Victoria, B.C.
Federal consultations were held with a select group of employers and labour representatives to help shape further changes to the temporary foreign worker program.
Atkinson said it is clear the government wants to ensure that full efforts and due diligence is performed by Canadian employers in trying to find unemployed and qualified Canadians before tapping into the temporary foreign worker pool.
“They will seek to deter the use of temporary foreign workers, especially for lower-skilled occupations, by introducing a minimum wage floor and/or significantly increasing fees and/or making it more difficult to use the program in regions of high unemployment,” he explained.
As the temporary foreign worker program fell under intense scrutiny, some critics and economists argued that the program suppresses natural wage inflation.
Atkinson dismissed those arguments, as they apply to construction, noting that even at the height of temporary foreign worker use in the industry, they only accounted for 1.4 per cent of the workers in construction’s workforce of 1.3 million (salaried and self-employed).
Atkinson also reported that the increased use of temporary foreign workers from 2005 to 2012 did not dampen wage inflation. Industry research supports that conclusion:
In 2012, the construction industry employed (salaried and hourly) 908,487 Canadians, including 18,820 temporary foreign workers which accounted for 2.07 per cent of the total industry workforce. Construction wage inflation in 2012 was 4.63 per cent.
In 2005, the construction industry employed (both salaried and hourly) 692,074 Canadians, including 2,470 temporary foreign workers, accounting for 0.36 per cent of the total industry workforce.
Construction wage inflation was 2.94 per cent for that year.
Various CCA members in attendance at the association’s board meeting expressed their concerns with the future of the temporary foreign workers program. Jack Davidson, president if the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, explained that his association members, primarily in northern British Columbia, will need “a lot more workers” next year through to 2016. Access to temporary foreign workers could help meet that labour demand, he said.
The Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) has been using the immigrant nominee program to try and secure foreign labour help.
“There is less politics associated with it and it does tend to lead towards a path towards permanent residency- which is politically acceptable,” explained Mark Cooper, president of SCA.
“The reality is, there a lot of jobs not appropriate for that program and that is why we need the temporary foreign worker program.”