The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) is applauding a new parliamentary report that will make it easier for employers to use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), but labour leaders say the federal government is ignoring the negative impacts of the program on the labour market.
"Our overall feeling on it is we think the recommendations go some way to making sure the pendulum that swung too far is back where it should be," said CCA president Michael Atkinson. "What is being proposed is a good step to get the TFWP back to where it should be. The draconian methods that were taken to almost close the program down caused the pendulum to swing far too much in one direction."
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) tabled a report in parliament on Sept. 19, which makes 21 recommendations for reform of the TFWP.
Employers were very critical about reforms to the TFWP made by the former Conservative government to crackdown on excessive abuses in 2014. In particular, employers complained about the cost and length of time it takes to process applications for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).
An LMIA is a government screening process designed to ensure there is a legitimate need for a temporary foreign worker (TFW) and that no Canadian is available to do the job.
For this reason, Atkinson said he is very happy with a recommendation that Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) implement a Trusted Employer Program that will reduce LMIA processing timelines for employers who have demonstrated trustworthiness in their use of the TFWP.
"There is some recognition that there are situations in which employers have turned over every stone and can't find qualified Canadians or permanent residents to do a job," he said. "That is when they need access to foreign trained workers, and it's got to be quick and certain."
In contrast, one labour leader said he is appalled that the federal government is considering the limitation or removal of the LMIA process, which protects the interests of Canadians and permanent residents.
"They have completely dropped the ball in terms of acknowledging the negative impacts of guest worker programs like the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program (IMP) have on the Canadian labour market, particularly in the low-wage service sector and the construction industry," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "They don't acknowledge that employers have been using this program to supress wages and displace Canadians. They don't acknowledge that employers are misrepresenting the situation when it comes to labour shortages."
Former ESDC minister Jason Kenney restructured the TFWP in June 2014 into two distinct programs, the TFWP and the IMP. The TFWP program required foreign workers who enter Canada at the request of employers to be approved through a new LMIA.
The IMP refers to foreign nationals who enter Canada with a work permit where no LMIA is required. These foreign workers are selected to advance Canada's economic and cultural interests.
According to McGowan, ESDC has deliberately tried to mislead the public in this report by providing estimates that show the number of TFW positions approved on LMIAs has decreased by 45 per cent to 90,211 in 2015 from 163,035 in 2013.
However, the report does not include other relevant information, such as the number of approvals granted under the IMP, he said.
McGowan explained that four of the 21 recommendations contained in the report are designed to remove or limit the requirement for employers to prove they offered jobs to Canadians first before they could be granted approval to import guest workers.
The HUMA committee had 10 members including six Liberal MPs, three Conservative MPs and one NDP MP.
The Conservatives and the NDP each issued dissenting opinions on the parliamentary report and both were highly critical of the fact that the main recommendations were based on just five days of hearings.
The opposition parties said the report was rushed, inadequate and that many witnesses who showed up to the proceedings were not given an opportunity to speak.
In response to this situation, the NDP is calling for a full parliamentary review to investigate the impact of the TFWP on the Canadian labour market, including the displacement of Canadian workers and wage suppression.