Change on the menu for foreign workers

Small business and restaurant owners will suffer and some of them may have to shut down as a result of Ottawa’s decision to make drastic changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it is deeply concerned that a moratorium on restaurants’ ability to access the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will push some small businesses to the brink, and is calling on the federal government to end the moratorium quickly.
“For a government that has been very supportive of Canada’s small business community, this decision is a slap in the face to entrepreneurs in the food services sector,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly.
“A public conviction of an entire industry is deeply unfair to the thousands of restaurant operators who use the program appropriately and follow all of the rules.”
CFIB members are strongly supportive of any action to crack down on those who abuse the program. In fact, in a recent survey, 85 per cent of small business owners said that access to the TFWP should be revoked for those who misuse it.
“But the fact is, for some businesses – particularly those in smaller communities, resort towns or resource rich areas – ending their ability to use the TFW program has real potential to put them out of business altogether,” added Kelly. 
“CFIB will be lobbying hard to convince the government to end the moratorium and work on solutions to address any ongoing problems.”
CFIB has recommended that government pursue a specialized TFWP stream for the restaurant and hospitality industry, built in similar fashion to the seasonal agricultural worker program. CFIB further advocates changes to the permanent immigration system to make it accessible to employers in need of lower-skilled workers.
Restaurants Canada said it is disappointed Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s decision to suspend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for the food services sector, and is committed to working with the federal government to correct any abuses, restore the integrity of the program and expedite our sector’s access to it in regions of severe labour shortages.
The restaurant industry employs 1.1 million Canadians and is the number one source of first-time jobs for young people. About 2 per cent of the industry’s employees are temporary foreign workers. In areas of the country with severe labour shortages, the TFW program is vital, allowing restaurants to remain in business, and to continue to provide jobs for their Canadian employees. 
The majority of restaurant operators using the program operate in complete compliance and it is unfortunate that their businesses and employees will be hurt by this broad-stroke approach. Albertans in particular will remember what it was like a few years ago to find restaurants closed because of a shortage of workers.
Canada’s restaurant industry directly employs more than 1.1 million Canadians, contributes $68 billion a year to the Canadian economy, and serves more than 18 million customers every day.
The changes were made in the wake of a report by the C.D. Howe Institute which is harshly critical of the federal government’s controversial temporary foreign workers program, saying it has spurred a higher unemployment rate in western Canada.
The study says changes to the program made between 2002 and 2013 made it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers and consequently contributed to a hike in the joblessness rate in Alberta and B.C.
As well, the report says, Ottawa eased the rules in the absence of any empirical evidence of labour shortages in many occupations.
While the NDP welcomes a moratorium on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the food service industry as a positive step, it will mean nothing without a full, independent and transparent review of this defective program.
“The Minister has now acknowledged the problem but – as usual – only took action after the issue made headlines,” said NDP Employment and Social Development critic, Jinny Sims (Newton—Delta Nord). “Now that Jason Kenney has finally taken some action, after months of refusing to do anything, he must follow it up with a commitment to launch an independent review of the unending problems with this program.”
The NDP plans to move a motion that would address the serious problems plaguing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including inviting the Auditor General to lead an independent review and instituting a moratorium on the Lower-skilled Occupations Stream, which includes service work in addition to restaurant and fast-food jobs. 
“More and more companies – not only fast food chains – have been taking advantage of loopholes in this program to reduce workers’ hours, wages and even to fire Canadian employees. The government needs to act urgently to finally clean up the mess they created,” added Sims.
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