Canada's Condominium Magazine
As with any complex social issue, there will be no simple resolution to the ongoing national argument about temporary foreign workers (TFW). Originally put in place back in 1973 to attract highly specialized workers like engineers and academics, the program has grown massive. There are currently about 340,000 TFWs in Canada. Certain segments of the labour market now depend on TFWs, like the agri-food industry in Ontario, which provides one relatively successful example of how it can work beneficially in conjunction with the local labour market.
The Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) administers the thousands of temporary farm workers who flood into southwestern Ontario every spring to work in the fields, orchards, greenhouses and vineyards. The president of FARMS board of directors said that for every foreign worker brought in, two full-time jobs are created in the agri-food industry. Ken Forth said that many of the jobs done by Canadians in the industry—driving trucks, operating equipment—would “go by the wayside” if the foreign workers weren’t here to work on the fruit and vegetable farms. “We’re not taking jobs, we’re creating jobs,” he said in the Chatham Daily News.
Wages are usually much lower in the kinds of jobs done by TFWs, jobs like seasonal farm work, than in highly paid manufacturing jobs. If a Canadian worker is laid off from a job in the auto industry where he earned $28 an hour, he likely won’t be interested in “picking tomatoes” for $10 or $11 an hour, said Forth.
The organization that represents small business owners in Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), is not happy with the government’s handling of the issue of TFWs either. The government imposed a moratorium on hiring TFWs in the restaurant and fast food industry. In a statement, the CFIB declared that “there is, in fact, a labour shortage” in Canada. CFIB president Dan Kelly said that most small businesses (80 per cent) looking to hire in the last three years had trouble finding suitable employees, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industry. According to Kelly, restaurant owners and other small business operators typically did everything they could to find local workers, from increasing their wage offers, to expanding their search efforts and offering more benefits, before turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Small businesses want to hire Canadian workers first. Business owners who attempted to access the TFWP take many steps to attract or retain Canadians: 73% say they recruited beyond their region, 72% increased wages, 46% added flexible hours, and 41% introduced or expanded employee benefits.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business
There is a popular misconception that employers want to hire foreign workers to save money, he said. Kelly dismissed that notion as “laughable,” saying that hiring through the TFWP is “complicated, it’s time-consuming, and much more costly than hiring local. Employers much prefer to hire Canadians if local staff are willing and able to do the job.”
That touches on the complaint most often heard from business owners, especially in the restaurant/fast food industry. It has become one of the main users of TFWs for jobs like food counter attendants, kitchen helpers, servers, cashiers and chefs. “Where are the Canadians when we put an ad in the paper?” one Toronto restaurant owner said, speaking to Reuters. “Why don’t they want to come early in the morning? They are not there.”
The government’s moratorium, imposed because of alleged abuses and to give priority to Canadian workers, will only lead to businesses closing, especially in smaller communities, warns Dan Kelly of CFIB.