On June 20, sweeping changes were announced to restrict the use and increase the cost of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. After digesting all the changes – ranging from increased fees to caps on numbers of TFWs per employer- we were left with one over-riding question: has the government fully estimated the effects of these decisions on Canadian businesses and the economy?
We know what the government was trying to stop: the relentless criticism of the program in Parliament. But we do not know where they are taking us now. Major policy decisions seem to have been taken with little regard for their potential impact.
They had a political problem…Now Canadian businesses have a business problem.
Consider: last year the LMO application fee was introduced at $275. Today’s announcement increases it to $1,000. Employers will have to decide if they can pass the cost along to consumers and still stay in business. If they can’t, they face bleak choices: reduce services or increase wages dramatically in the hopes that unemployed Canadians will move to take those jobs. But no one, including the architects of this announcement, has any idea what wage increases will be enough.
Today’s announcement says an employer will have a quota of TFWs they cannot exceed. Where is the logic? If an employer cannot find the workers he needs, why will the government help him to only partly solve his problem?
The new policy will restrict TFWs in areas of high unemployment. But employers in those zones already had access to unemployed Canadians at a lower cost. Banning TFWs doesn’t magically make those locally available workers more suited to the jobs. The government is taking a big gamble.
As a building trades union representative said recently, a small number of TFWs sometimes makes the difference for hundreds of Canadian jobs. Labour markets are fluid mixtures of cost, numbers of workers and skills. Rigid rules may work in Parliament, but not on the job site.
Everything in today’s announcement suggests the government wants this program to be as restrictive as possible. But we should remember the program was invented to ensure Canadian businesses had access to the workers they need. This still is the most important priority; when the business is flagging, everyone’s paycheck is at risk.
The political environment was overheated because of abuse of the program. Why didn’t’ the government punish the offenders while respecting “trusted” employers who do play by the rules? This is program punishing everyone for the offences of a few.
Canada’s labour markets require foreign workers – for the sake of Canadian businesses and their employees.