Foreign worker debate continues in B.C.

Temporary foreign worker changes do little to calm debate in B.C.

  • Jun. 22, 2014 4:00 p.m.

By James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – The federal government’s planned overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program has done little to calm debate in British Columbia, where revelations about foreign workers in a range of industries — from fast food to mining — helped push Ottawa toward reform.

The Conservative government announced a series of changes last Friday designed to make it more difficult and more expensive for companies to use temporary foreign workers, particularly for low-skilled jobs such as those in the fast-food industry.

Use of the temporary foreign worker program, which is designed to allow companies to meet temporary labour shortages, has increased significantly, from about 100,000 workers across the country in 2002 to more than 300,000 today.

In B.C., several revelations about how companies are using the program have fuelled controversy.

In 2012, a Chinese-owned mining company, HD Mining, received approvals to bring in roughly 200 miners from China to work on a proposed coal project.

Two unions filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block HD Mining’s foreign worker permits, alleging the company did not do enough to ensure Canadians were considered first. The unions lost the case.

Earlier this year, news reports alleged three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria were misusing temporary foreign workers, prompting the federal government to announce a moratorium on the food service industry’s use of the program and making the sector a target for Ottawa’s recent changes.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said no amount of reform can change the fact the program will still allow companies to hire foreign workers instead of Canadians.

“The program is still going to exist — they just found ways to massage public opinion so they can continue with it,” said Sinclair.

The federal government’s proposed changes will prevent employers in areas of high unemployment from applying for temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skill groups. It also caps the number of foreign workers employers can use and dramatically increases fees.

Sinclair said the proposed changes will do nothing to help the foreign workers themselves.

“Our position is that they should be given citizenship,” said Sinclair. “If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to live here, bring their families and spend their paycheques in Canada.”

Sinclair argued that it doesn’t make sense to tie the program to unemployment rates, particularly in heavily populated regions such as the Lower Mainland where companies are essentially drawing from the same workforce. For example, Vancouver’s relatively low unemployment rate would allow foreign workers to be used there, but companies in nearby Abbotsford, which has an unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent, would not.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, which has defended the industry’s use of the foreign workers, said the changes will hurt restaurants.

He said only looking at jobless rates fails to take into account whether unemployed workers in a particular area are able to or even want to work in the positions that need to be filled.

“Are we sure that in areas of high unemployment that the group of people who are unemployed are matched for the jobs that are opening?” he said.

Critics have claimed the program drives down wages, because companies that pay at or near minimum wage can bring in foreign workers rather than offer better pay to attract Canadians.

A report published earlier this year by the C.D. Howe Institute, a non-partisan public policy think-tank, suggested the program actually increased unemployment rates in B.C. and Alberta. The report said one of the program’s goals is, in fact, to keep wages from “rising precipitously” in response to a shortage of workers.

The B.C. government, which emerged as a vocal supporter of HD Mining’s use of the program, reacted to last week’s announcement only by saying it would be reviewing the proposed changes.

“Our province is on the verge of unprecedented growth and I want to make sure there are no unintended consequences that hinder economic development in B.C.,” said a written statement from Jobs Minister Shirley Bond.

B.C.’s Opposition New Democrats said the provincial government should have demanded that Ottawa hand over more control of the program.

“This is a once-size-fits-all approach and we have distinct needs from coast to coast,” said NDP Leader John Horgan.

“Here in B.C., the program is heavily subscribed and I believe that’s a disincentive to employers to look for training opportunities.

Follow @ByJamesKeller on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Squires of The Wack Window Cleaning Company has created the #100housechallenge where he’ll be cleaning the exterior windows of 100 homes for free when an interior window cleaning service is purchased and a food item is donated to Wilma’s Transition Society. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack window cleaner ready to donate to Wilma’s through #100housechallenge campaign

Chris Squires enjoys providing service, wants to express it via donations, giving back to community

A cyclist was struck at the intersection of Prest and Bailey roads in Chilliwack on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: Cyclist struck by SUV in Chilliwack

Incident happened at Prest and Bailey roads around 2:45 p.m. Saturday

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired Mission teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Alan Sweet taught in school district for 10 years, investigators seeking further witnesses

B.C. RCMP Lower Mainland District officer, Asst. Commissioner Stephen Thatcher presents RCMP blankets to (from left) Chief James Hobart, Chief Maureen Chapman, Chief Derek Epp and Chief Mark Point. (RCMP)
Historic agreement between Fraser Valley FN communities, RCMP to expand Indigenous role in policing

Community Safety Agreement builds relationship of ‘trust, communication and prevention,’ says Chief

Canadian Reformed Church in Chilliwack. (GoogleMaps)
OPINION: Churches that defy the law and public health orders are in the extreme minority

The nature of news coverage means that aberrations from the norm are what make the headlines

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

Most Read