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Impact of TFW moratorium felt locally

Posted on May 20, 2014 by Maple Creek

A moratorium imposed on Canada’s food services sector’s access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has put some small-town restaurants in a difficult situation.

In Maple Creek, a local restaurateur says it’s left her staff scrambling to cover a position that she hasn’t been able to find any Canadian citizens to fill.

Tina Cresswell, owner of the Star Cafe & Grill, said the local business’ two chefs are working extra hours as she has been unable to find another line cook.

“I’ve called schools, I’ve called people in the industry I know, I’ve called people I’ve interviewed before who were on work visas that I couldn’t hire to see if they have any friends who have permanent residency who want to get out of (the city),” she explained.

Cresswell has been advertising nationally for three or four months. The problem is that a line cook’s wage is not very high and people aren’t willing to move from Toronto or Vancouver to a small town in the Prairies for a lower wage.

“They don’t understand that you don’t need as much to live here,” she stated.

She pointed out that one woman interested in the position before the program was put on pause wanted to leave her job in the big city, where she was making $1.50 more an hour, because she wanted to live and work in a smaller community and it would put her in a much better position. Unfortunately, the cook can only remain in Canada if she is working for the employer that brought her in and must first receive a Labour Market Opinion before switching jobs.

Rules like that only add to the issues with the program, Cresswell said.

“They’re tied to one employer if they want to stay in Canada. Maybe that’s part of the problem – that employers’ got (TFWs) under his thumb,” she said. And it’s not just a few employers who are abusing the system and ruining it for everyone, she added.

“I’ve heard some horror stories,” Cresswell said. “I’m not sure it’s just a few businesses.”

Despite these reports of abuse of the system, Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson has said the TFWP is necessary for businesses in the Southwest to deal with industry difficulties – helping to fill employment holes. With the province’s unemployment rate sitting at 3.4 per cent, he noted there are few job vacancies.

“We’ve basically got full employment, so in order to fill out the extra jobs that we’ve got, obviously we need to turn either to Canadians or to temporary foreign workers, and certainly temporary foreign workers have filled a number of those slots in the past,” Anderson stated.

But he added that abuse of it will not be tolerated, and Canadians should have access to the jobs first.

“We’ve made changes over the last year trying to strengthen the program and strengthen the compliance with it. That seems to have left some problems,” he said. “We want to deal with those problems and issues. We need to find a way that we can make the program work in those areas where it’s needed, but make sure employers are trying to employ Canadians first.”

Employment Minister Jason Kenney said the food industry’s access to the program will not be restored until a review is completed, which will take a few weeks.

Anderson pointed out there are already measures in place to find employers who are abusing the program, such as on-site inspections that could result in significant financial penalties and blacklisted employers.

Cresswell believes part of the solution is to identify different programs for different needs.

“In the case of skilled and semi-skilled workers, I think the program should acknowledge that these people are coming in with the view to be permanent residents and Canadian citizens,” she stated. “It’ shouldn’t even be called Temporary Foreign Worker Program. It should be called a skilled immigration program or a semi-skilled immigration program.”

But Anderson emphasized that the TFWP is just that, temporary.

“Really the point of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to tide employers and businesses over temporarily until they can actually transition to a Canadian workforce,” he explained. “This was not intended to be a permanent worker replacement program. Employers need to have some understanding in their mind and need to be able to explain how they’re going to move to a Canadian workforce.”

Last month, Cresswell was a guest on CBC Radio One’s Cross Country Checkup to discuss the TFWP.

Since the broadcast, the business owner has received numerous complaints and attacks on her business through social media regarding hiring chefs from abroad instead of Canada.

According to Cresswell, she attempts to hire within Canada first. If this isn’t successful, her search is expanded outside Canada, and those hired pay their own way to move to Maple Creek.

Many have suggested paying higher wages would attract Canadian workers, but she said the Star pays higher than the industry standard. Businesses must offer at least the industry standard in order to apply for a Labour Market Opinion to hire foreign workers.

“I think that there can be some misconceptions out there on what wages are being paid,” she stated, adding that if wages are increased, the cost will be felt by the consumer.

In the meantime, Cresswell said her staff have been very understanding and offered to work overtime to account for being short-staffed.

The two current chefs at the restaurant are on two-year work permits, and she believes they will be obtaining permanent residency before their permits expire.

Overall, Cresswell said recruiting from overseas is a positive step for the workers and the community they become a part of.

“They’re in a much better situation… and they expect to make a better life. They choose Maple Creek,” she stated. “Without international workers, Canadians won’t have jobs because the businesses will not be able to survive. We can’t grow without them.”

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