By Kevin Werner, News Staff
As the number of temporary foreign workers rise in Canada, the impact on the national economy is starting raise questions about the validity of the program.
Sarah Wayland, project lead for Hamilton’s economic development department, said companies are using temporary foreign workers to fill permanent jobs, something that should be halted by the federal government.
“That’s not right,” said Wayland.
Wayland was one of about 12 people who spoke to Liberal MP John McCallum, the party’s immigration critic at the Sheraton Hotel May 21 to talk about the problems with the federal government’s temporary foreign workers program.
“We know from the C.D. Howe Institute this program has cost jobs in western Canada,” said McCallum.
Over the last year the program has been under fire after it was discovered that some Canadian businesses have been using the program to fill permanent, full-time positions. The issue has only worsen after earlier this year it was discovered the federal government didn’t have proper labour information statistics for the country and that some ministry staff were referring to on-line advertisements for statistics.
From 2002 to 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers program jumped from 101,000 workers to 338,000. The program has “mushroomed” said McCallum to a point where the number of temporary foreign workers will in the next few years out pace the number of permanent immigrants inCanada.
“It’s not that we don’t like temporary guest workers,” he said. “We need it for agriculture. But it has gotten out of hand.”
He said the program needs to be “gradually reduced” in order to “bring them back closer to where (the guest workers) need to be. I’m not saying zero at all.”
Canada Business Magazine found that foreign workers in Hamilton has followed the national scene with just over 1,000 guest workers in the city, but jumping to over 2,400 this year.
The federal government has tried to revamp the program suggesting paying the guest workers the same as Canadian workers, requiring on-site inspections and demanding that employers have a transition plan.
Still, Canada needs to do better in not only protecting temporary workers, but also providing for an easier access for them to acquire permanent residency.
Keith Robson, the former Hamilton Port Authority chair, who is now a transportation consultant, said in the 1970s when he came to Canada from the United Kingdom, it was easier to achieve landed immigrant status than it is now. Canada, he said, needs immigrants for skilled jobs, but businesses are reluctant to train them properly, he said.
“It’s easier to hire a temporary worker,” he said.
Canada, said Wayland, is now competing against other desirable countries, such as Australia, for immigrants. If the country puts up barriers to become a permanent resident, they will go to another country.
“If we don’t offer an easy way in and access to jobs, people will go elsewhere,” she said.
McCallum agreed there should be a “better pathway” for guest workers to become landed immigrants, and subsequently citizens if that is what they want.
McCallum is on a tour of the country, including southwestern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, talking with business leaders, social agency representatives and immigrant activists about how to fix the guest worker issue.