June 18, 2012
Foreign workers needed to meet labour demands
A B.C. government task force is promoting the use of temporary foreign workers (TFW) to fill urgent shortages of skilled workers, but labour leaders are concerned this will displace local workers on major construction projects.
“Travelling across the province, hearing stories from a range of employers about the challenges they are facing filling jobs in all types of industries, impressed upon the task force the immediate and overwhelming need to bring more skilled immigrants to B.C. through a more efficient and responsive system,” said John Yap, minister of multiculturalism and immigration task force chair.
“I look forward to working with my provincial and federal colleagues to implement changes to the programs available to B.C. so that our province can attract the talented immigrants needed in an increasingly competitive global fight for human capital.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced on Dec. 8, 2011 that the government was creating an Immigration Task Force (ITF) to review key programs and increase the number of skilled immigrants and investors in the province.
The report, which was released May 22, concluded that more skilled immigrants must be attracted to the province immediately to stimulate job creation and avoid the closure or relocation of local businesses.
Based on this finding and others, the report recommends that employers should be exempt from obtaining a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to fill essential job openings that have demonstrated shortages.
The report also recommends that the LMO application process be streamlined to reduce processing times and better reflect business needs.
“We have a few concerns about this report, for example exempting employers from obtaining an LMO,” said Mark Olsen, business manager with the Construction and Specialized Workers Union.
“We don’t agree that this should be part of the process. I agree with expediting the immigration process, but they have left unions out of the process.”
Employers who wish to hire temporary foreign workers must first apply for an LMO, which assesses the impact the foreign worker would have on Canada’s labour market or how the offer of employment would likely affect Canadian jobs.
Olsen is critical of the task force recommendation to use sub-provincial information, such as regional unemployment rates, to assess the need for those foreign workers in B.C.
“There will always be an opening if regional unemployment is being used as an indicator to determine if an opening exists,” he said.
“If they are identifying openings, then they should contact local trade unions and employment agencies as part of the process to see if they have people available with those specific skills”.
Olsen is also concerned about the enforcement of labour regulations for the TFW program.
“There is no mechanism or process for oversight of employment, with regard to how people get here or how they get paid,” he said.
“We must ensure that the employees needs are fulfilled, which means they are paid and treated properly.”
An employer needs a positive LMO to hire a TFW.
Many of the recommendations in the report support recent federal government policy reforms to make the immigration system more responsive to economic needs.
For example, Minister of HRSDC Diane Finley announced on April 25 that the federal government intends to make the TFW program more responsive to skilled labour shortages.
“When you read these findings and put them in the context of what the federal government is up to, employers will easily be able to find a need to bring people into the province with no oversight,” said Olsen.
“I do believe it will happen soon that there will be a number of construction projects, where employers will put a fence around the site and bring in temporary foreign workers to build the whole project.”
The federal government is proposing to allow employers with a strong track record to receive an Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion (A-LMO) within 10 business days. This is for TFWs in high-skill occupations, including skilled trades.
The proposed changes to the TFW program include a new wage structure, which allow employers to pay less.
The HRSDC said wages that are up to 15 per cent below the average wage for an occupation will be accepted in specific regions.
“We don’t want to set up a system, where there is an excuse to bring in people and pay them less than Canadians,” said Olsen.
“I find it difficult to understand how this will create jobs and stimulate the local economy because these workers are being paid a lower wage.
“The union will have difficulty representing these temporary foreign workers as they will be flown in, transported by bus and housed by the employer.”
Another task force recommendation is to broaden the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program’s Entry-Level and Semi-Skilled Stream to support retention of low-skilled temporary foreign workers, who fill permanent roles.
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