June 20, 2014 4:41 pm

Jobless rate will govern use of low-wage Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Watch above: Federal government announces series of reforms to Temporary Foreign Worker program

OTTAWA – Employers in places with high unemployment won’t be allowed to apply for temporary foreign workers in the lowest wage and skill groups in the accommodation, food service and retail sectors.

That’s one of the changes to the controversial program announced Friday by the Conservative government.

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A cap is also being placed on the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers an employer can hire at each worksite: 30 per cent of a worksite’s employees starting immediately, dropping to 10 per cent by July 2016.

Employers who are currently under the cap will not be allowed to hire more temporary foreign workers in order to reach the limit.

READ MORE: Misplaced blame on migrants in Temporary Foreign Worker controversy

The cap will not apply to employers with fewer than 10 workers or to short-term, non-renewable positions.

Watch below: NDP says temporary foreign worker reforms do “far too little” to address systemic problems

Employers will also be required to re-apply every year for approval to hire low-wage temporary foreign workers, instead of every two years. The fee to apply for a so-called labour market impact assessment is being increased to $1,000 from $275.

“Our measures are bold, broad, ambitious and balanced,” Employment Minister Jason Kenney said in announcing the changes.

“Our government has been clear that Canadians must be first in line for available jobs. These comprehensive and balanced reforms restore the temporary foreign worker program to its original purpose – as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs.”

Watch below: Liberals accuse Kenney of flip-flopping on temporary foreign workers program

Kenney said the changes will significantly reduce the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada and improve labour market information, while strengthening enforcement and penalties.

“We’ll severely sanction those who break the rules,” he said.

The government also says it will post the number of temporary foreign workers approved every quarter, along with the names of companies that get the green light to hire them, in an effort to enhance accountability.

READ MORE: Poll suggests Canadians support fines for foreign worker program abuses

Employers who hire temporary foreign workers must promise not to lay off any Canadian workers or cut their hours, and they must tell the government how many Canadians applied and were interviewed for jobs, along with why they were not hired, Kenney said.

“We’ll ensure employers re-double their efforts to hire Canadians.”

The program will now be based on provincial wage levels instead of the government’s national occupational classifications. Low wages are defined as anything below the provincial median; high wages are anything above it.

READ MORE: Website tracks temporary foreign workers

The amount of time a low-wage temporary foreign worker can work in Canada is being reduced to a cumulative total of two years from four years.

The government is also lifting its freeze on hiring temporary foreign workers in the food-services sector.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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