Changes to the controversial federal temporary foreign workers program are meant to curb abuses, but some are concerned about its effects on the construction industry.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney rolled out sweeping changes to the temporary foreign worker program Friday, placing strict restrictions and penalties on those who use it.
The changes included limits on how many low-wage temporary foreign workers can be used by a site and harsh penalties for non-compliant employers. Companies will also be required to annually apply to hire the workers rather than every two years.
The application cost will be $1,000 per employee, up from $275.
“I think it was unfortunate the government felt motivated to act given the small number of people who abused the program,” said Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C.
Hochstein said he believes that those who abuse the program need to be found and denied access to it. But he is concerned that making the program more restrictive could trickle down to the construction industry.
“We don’t build for ourselves, we build for others,” Hochstein said. “If it hurts their business it’s going to hurt our business.”
According to government figures, there are about 336,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, an increase from 100,000 in 2002.
The changes came after allegations that some companies were abusing the program.
Canada’s largest open shop construction organization, Merit Contractors Association, echoed Hochstein’s comments, saying while it agrees that abuses should be rooted out, the depth of the changes will hurt the industry.
Line Porfon, Merit’s vice president government relations, stated, “In order to continue to build our province and sustain our future, employers must have the tools to address the demand for skilled workers.”
“The massive changes to the TFW program will make it that much harder to bring in qualified workers to a province with very low unemployment in the construction industry,” she said.