The federal Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program has seen its share of controversy, and while recent changes to the program may curb some problems, they have also created new ones.
A new $275 processing fee for each temporary foreign employee, which is tacked onto the pre-existing $150
application fee, is impacting the Columbia Valley, where several employers use the TFW program to find employees.
“It’s just money that you’re going to have to spend as an employer,” said Justin Atterbury, who owns the Rocky River Grill in Invermere and has hired through the TFW program. “Employers have to pay for travel expenses anyway, which gets into the thousands of dollars, so the next couple hundred dollars won’t make or break it.”
Because the Columbia Valley’s economy is mainly based on tourism, the TFW program is often utilized in cases where no qualified Canadians make themselves available to the employer. For many valley business owners, there are very few alternative hiring strategies.
“One of the challenges in the valley is finding workers year-round, to deliver a consistent product,” Mr. Atterbury said.
“It can take three to six months to train somebody, and a lot of the workers we have around here only stay for three to six months. Foreign workers are so crucial in the valley with its high tourism base.”
Mr. Atterbury believes that the changes will be fine-tuned to lessen the burden on smaller businesses. He believes that the changes were a reaction to “giant billion dollar companies that were abusing this program.”
“It was a knee-jerk reaction because there were some bigger players abusing the system,” he added.
While Jason Kenney, the Minister of Employment and Social Development who announced the changes, encouraged affected employers to hired more aggressively or increase wage offers, Mr. Atterbury doesn’t find those methods practical.
“Fast food, restaurant and hotels – it’s hard to fill those jobs. Businesses have to keep their wages in line with what they can sell their products for, and it’s really difficult to find year-round employees in the valley.”
Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament David Wilks told The Echo that changes to the program are a reaction to overuse of the program.
“What we’re trying to encourage as much as possible is that Canadians apply for those jobs and work them,” he said. “We’re not finding that, otherwise we wouldn’t have the dilemma that we’re in.”
Mr. Atterbury said that the government mandates wages of the TFWs, causing them to cost more per hour than domestic employees.
“They don’t work for cheaper wages by any means, but what it offers you as an employer is consistent year-round employees, and in the valley that’s very difficult to do.”
While Mr. Atterbury expects changes to the program, Mr. Wilks does not. However, the local MP encouraged anybody who would like to see changes to the program to visit his website, david-wilks.ca, and click on a petition icon. If enough signatures are lobbied, the petition will go forward to the House of Commons.