The Conservative government should extend a new moratorium on the use of temporary foreign workers in restaurants to all low-skilled entry-level jobs, according to the federal NDP.
Newton-North Delta MP Jinny Sims, the Official Opposition’s employment critic, made the call May 2 at a student forum on the issue in Cloverdale at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
“You would be amazed at where temporary foreign workers are being used,” Sims told the audience of 60. “I’m not convinced we have a labour shortage and if we do it’s very, very specific to certain areas.”
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney last month ordered the freeze on new hiring of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in the food services industry, citing serious concerns from a government investigation into recent allegations of inappropriate use of non-Canadians.
Sims said a broader moratorium should not apply to agricultural workers or nannies.
She also called for an independent audit of the program, which she said must be highly regulated and enforced to ensure skilled Canadians can’t do work offered to foreigners who don’t come here through immigration channels.
Enforcement of the TFW program is currently “non-existent” and set to worsen with more scheduled federal government layoffs, Sims said.
The issue has been prominent in recent weeks after revelations some McDonalds outlets in Victoria used temporary foreign workers from the Philippines instead of available Canadian workers.
Sims also cautioned that the TFW issue is creating tensions in workplaces and urged people not to jump to conclusions about who is a foreign worker.
“Every time you walk in and see a brown face working at McDonalds does not mean they are a temporary foreign worker,” she said.
McDonalds has since ended its franchisees’ use of TFWs.
A study by the C.D. Howe Institute last month found easier access to temporary foreign workers elevated unemployment rates in B.C. and Alberta between 2002 and 2012, a period during which the number of TFWs in Canada tripled to 338,000.
B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association president Ian Tostenson is hoping meetings with government address any concerns and lead to a quick end to the moratorium.
“We have asked them to put the brightest people in government together with industry to work out a solution,” Tostenson said. “Otherwise you are going to see businesses scale back or close.”
He said the public wrongly assumes TFWs are used to save money, when they are paid the same as Canadian workers.
The main reason for their use, he said, is the lack of enough local workers willing to work at the times required, which can be around the clock in fast-food restaurants.
Just because there are idle workers in an area doesn’t mean a given business can use them, he added.
Tostenson said many people seeking jobs aren’t interested in working in quick-service restaurants.
Controversies over temporary foreign workers are not new.
TFWs from Latin America were used to build the Canada Line but were paid less than other labourers, resulting in a dispute that ended in the ordering of special payments of $50,000 per worker.
– Jeff Nagel @jeffnagel