Is it time to end the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

WATCH ABOVE: There are more than 340,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada right now. Advocates of the program say these workers keep the economy going but a new report suggests the program might actually increase joblessness. Is it time to scrap the Temporary Foreign Worker Program? That debate heats up on Unfiltered

VANCOUVER – Recent criticism aimed at McDonald’s over its use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has some calling for the program to be scrapped.

On Thursday night Employment Minister Jason Kenney took action against the government’s scandal-ridden program, banning restaurants from accessing the program amid a roar of criticism

McDonald’s restaurants in Victoria, Parksville and Alberta have already been barred from applying to bring in more temporary foreign workers, pending an investigation by Kenny’s Ministry.

A new report also released on Thursday says that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is driving up unemployment in the province.

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Scott Lunny with the United Steelworkers Union said they have been asking the government for a moratorium on the program, but he said he is not sure Kenny’s actions are enough. “That’s just one sector using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” he said, speaking of the restaurant industry. “There’s other service sectors, there’s the hospitality industry, there’s other so-called low-skilled occupations, and there’s manufacturing, construction, we even have temporary foreign workers in mining across Canada. So it’s just a small piece of the puzzle.”

Dominique Gross from the Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy, published a report on Thursday called Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada: Are They Really Filling Labour Shortages?

“Stopping [the program] for some time may be OK, but the question is for how long,” she said on Unfiltered.

In her report Gross says the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is actually driving up youth employment in Canada.

Lunny said the stories from restaurants such as Tim Hortons and McDonald’s are just emblematic of a broader problem with the program. “Temporary workers, temporary foreign workers, are being used to fill permanent positions, and that’s certainly not what the intent of the program is,” he said.

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“And another issue that I don’t think gets addressed by Ms. Gross’ report, not by any fault of hers because she was just looking at the labour market issues related to the program, but it’s that these workers are an inherently and fundamentally vulnerable workforce,” added Lunny. “And that’s ripe for abuse, and that’s what we’re seeing all across the country, is flagrant abuses of workers who are brought in under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.”

B.C. and Alberta employ the most foreign workers in Canada.

Gross said, in her opinion, one of the clear shortcomings of the program is that there is no clear knowledge of the state of the labour market at the occupational and regional level.

“In any country that has a Temporary Foreign Worker Program that is more efficient, basically there is a list of occupations, especially when it’s low-skill occupations, that are recognized that there are shortcomings because there is very good knowledge about the state of the labour market,” she added.

“Now in Canada this is not the case, and having all types of workers, all level of skill and low-skill, that can be potentially, I mean temporary foreign workers can be potentially hired for that, I think that’s the weakness.”

Lunny said the United Steelworkers Union thinks the program is flawed and has been since the start.

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Mike Klassen, director of provincial affairs for British Columbia with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said they think Kenny’s move is a “shocking overreaction.”

“This has been a story where it’s been trial by media,” he said, “there hasn’t really been an opportunity for people in the quick service food sector, who happen to employ more Canadians than anybody else, to actually respond to what’s going on.”

“This was a very bad decision by this government.”

Klassen added that this is going to be tough for some businesses in the CFIB and that some may be forced to close. “There are restaurants, for example I heard about an Indian restaurant today that’s trying to find several cooks,” he said. “[They] have been relying upon temporary foreign workers to find new employees. That is going to prevent that business probably from keeping going.”