The Conservative government has announced a series of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program designed to make it more difficult and more expensive for companies to use temporary foreign workers, particularly for low-skilled jobs such as those in the fast-food industry.
Use of the temporary foreign worker program, which is designed to allow companies to meet temporary labour shortages, has increased significantly, from about 100,000 workers across the country in 2002 to more than 300,000 today.
The changes follow a series of controversial revelations about use of the program, from a Chinese-owned mining company bringing y 200 miners from China, to alleged misuses by three McDonald's franchises in Victoria.
The new plan will prevent employers in areas of high unemployment from applying for temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skill groups. It also caps the number of foreign workers employers can use and dramatically increases fees.
During a news
conference in Ottawa, Kenney acknowledged that some businesses will have to reduce services under the new regulations, saying there would be "adjustment costs.”
"Yes, undoubtedly, there will be some businesses in that sector that end up paring back their operating hours," he said. "That we fully anticipate."
The changes prevent employers in places with high unemployment rates from applying for temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skill groups in the accommodation, food service and retail sectors.
A cap is also being placed on the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers an employer can hire at each worksite: 30 per cent of a worksite's employees starting immediately, dropping to 10 per cent by July 2016.
Companies will also be required to re-apply each year to hire low-wage temporary foreign workers, instead of every two years. They'll pay more for the privilege, too: $1,000 per employee, up from $275.
Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, which has defended the industry's use of the foreign workers, said the changes will hurt restaurants.
He said only looking at jobless rates fails to take into account whether unemployed workers in a particular area are able to or even want to work in the positions that need to be filled.
"Are we sure that in areas of high unemployment that the group of people who are unemployed are matched for the jobs that are opening?" he said.
A number of union spokespeople have said the changes do not go far enough to protect Canadian employees.
Employers who hire temporary foreign workers must promise not to lay off any Canadian workers or cut their hours, and they must tell the government how many Canadians applied and were interviewed for jobs, along with why they were not hired, Kenney said.
"We'll ensure employers re-double their efforts to hire Canadians."