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Cap on proportion of TFW program employees in workforce remains at 20 per cent


June 24, 2016
By Joanna Smith the Canadian Press

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June 23, 2016 – The federal government is freezing the 20 per cent cap on the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers a company can hire. 

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said the controversial temporary foreign worker program needs an overhaul and will announce her planfor more changes later this year. 

But for now, the cap, which was set to go down to 10 per cent beginning July 1, will instead stay where it is. 

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“I believe this is a prudent step to take as we work to develop a better temporary foreign worker policy and fix some of the problems with the program that emerged under the previous government,” Mihychuk said in a statement Thursday. 

The previous Conservative government started phasing in a cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers _ low-skilled employees paid less than the provincial or territorial median hourly wage – in June 2014, as part of reforms that also included disallowing use of the program in regions of Canada with high unemployment rates. 

Those changes followed a series of controversies dogging the program, including reports of fast-food franchise restaurants favouring temporary foreign workers over local employees. 

Employers who first began hiring low-wage temporary foreign workers before the cap came into effect will still be able to use it for 20 per cent of their workforce. 

Those who started using the program after that point, or who are hiring temporary foreign workers for the first time, are subject to a 10-per-cent cap. 

All the other program requirements – including having employers ensuring that Canadians and permanent residents have the first opportunities to apply for available jobs – will remain in place while the cap is frozen. 

Ron Davidson of the Canadian Meat Council says meat-processing plants that have been dealing with severe labour shortages will welcome the relief, even if it does not solve all their problems. 

“Everything helps. This does not solve the problem, but it all helps,” Davidson said. 

The Liberal government already quietly suspended the cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers for seasonal employers earlier this year. 

Seafood processors have said that 180-day exemption will help them get through labour shortages in their busiest time of the year. 

A memo obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act suggests Employment and Social Development Canada believes lifting the cap would likely create more problems than it  would solve. 

The Jan. 6 memo, prepared for Mihychuk ahead of a meeting with a Manitoba pork processing plant, outlined some of the concerns the minister could expect the company to raise, including the cap on low-wage foreign workers. 

“Employers in this sector contend that the cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers prevents processing plants from meeting labour needs,” says the memo. 

“The industry is particularly concerned with its ability to operate with the decrease of the cap to 10 per cent as of July 2016.” 

The memo also says the government had already brought in administrative changes that allow temporary foreign workers who have been nominated for permanent residency to be excluded from the cap, so that employers can count them as Canadians instead. 

The memo also recommended Mihychuk encourage the company to move away from temporary foreign workers – using it only as a last resort – rather than focus on more changes to the program. 

“The labour needs of the pork industry are year-round, therefore a long-term solution of hiring more Canadians and/or permanent residents rather than relying on temporary foreign workers is desirable,” says the memo. 

The House of Commons standing committee on human resources studies potential reforms to the program this spring, but will not release its report until after MPs return to Parliament Hill in September. 

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016