An employer’s first job is to succeed in business. Without business success, there are no jobs and wages, no economic growth, no new tax revenue for governments.
Ottawa needs to keep this fact in mind as it plans another round of restrictions to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Everyone is aware of the political pressure the government is under, but what’s good politics may not be good policy.
The government should keep in mind the program’s purpose and how it relates to jobs and our economy. It was created to assist with employers’ labour market challenges. And notwithstanding the claim that there’s no skills problem in Canada, employers experience a very different reality.
The recently-imposed moratorium on food services’ access to the program is already taking its toll. Businesses from Halifax to Prince George, B.C., to Labrador have to rethink their operations when they can’t find people with the skills they need who are available to work at the wages they can afford to pay. Where an employer can’t fill the skills gap, the business can’t expand. In some cases, it may actually have to lay off current employees or even close. Skills and scale matter, and the series of new restrictions on the program have hurt businesses across the country, many of them small- or medium-sized.
But it may get worse. Recent press reports suggest the government wants to use its cuts to the program to drive wages up. That’s a strange way to help Canadian businesses cope with dramatically-growing competitive pressures. And, because sectors compete with each other to attract workers, higher wages in one sector affect the cost of labour in others as well. With two-thirds of the Canadian economy competing in the world market, higher wages are clearly not the solution to Canada’s flagging competitiveness.
One proposal is to impose a wage floor or even a wage premium for foreign workers relative to domestic workers in the same positions. Do we really want to require that foreign workers be paid higher wages than Canadians for doing the same job?
There’s no doubt that, whenever the government puts a program in place, some people will attempt to abuse the system. In this case, we’ve heard reports of people trying to use the program as a first choice, and not as a means of filling the gap when Canadians aren’t available to do the job. But Ottawa makes a decision on every request for a temporary foreign worker. If greater scrutiny of those requests is required, the government should provide it. It has not just the right, but the responsibility to pursue abusers and to exert its considerable powers, including laying criminal charges if a fraud has been committed.
Instead of penalizing all businesses, the government should improve its review process and its enforcement of the program’s rules. By respecting the legitimate needs of Canadian business, the government will also serve Canadian workers.