Canadian Manufacturing

Kenney continues to defend troubled foreign worker program

Employment minister said feds still improving components of program, including online job bank

OTTAWA—Quebec just has to hire its own youth and unemployed instead of relying on temporary foreign workers, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said this week.

Kenney’s comments comes after the province said it is seeking an exemption from a federal moratorium so restaurants in the province can hire such workers.

The federal minister pointed out that 14 per cent of Quebec youth are unemployed as are 20 per cent of new arrivals to the province.

Ottawa announced the moratorium in late April after reports suggested the program was being abused by the food-service industry.

A spokesperson for Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said on the weekend the province has no problem with the program and that restaurants need temporary foreign workers to keep operating, especially in summer.

The moratorium has been widely criticized by industry groups, with Quebec’s restaurant association calling it “exaggerated and unreasonable.”

Federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander this week said the moratorium was imposed for “very good reasons.”

“There was abuse and we are absolutely committed to completing the review and the reform we have underway,” he said at an unrelated event in Montreal.

“And I can assure you … and Canadians across the country that when this program is relaunched, it will not be subject to abuse.”

He said the hiring of foreign temporary workers should be a “last resort.”

“There are young people across Canada … who are looking for permanent jobs and summer jobs and our first obligation as employers is to look to the domestic market,” Alexander said.

Kenney was also left to defend Ottawa’s online job bank this week amid revelations that hundreds of positions posted on the site have long since been filled.

He said the government plans to make enhancements to the site soon.

“We are making improvements to the Canada Job Bank … we will be using new technological developments in the near future to ensure an even better matching of unemployed Canadians with available jobs,” Kenney said in the House of Commons.

The government will work with “private-sector web platforms” when provinces fail to send their own postings to the job bank, he added.

Currently, most provinces and territories do so automatically.

The job bank is a critical component of Ottawa’s controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Employers are required to post ads on the site seeking Canadian workers for four weeks before they’re able to apply to hire temporary foreign workers.

The government also relies in part on job bank data to determine what regions of the country are clamouring for labour.

But from customer service representatives in New Brunswick to food service supervisors in British Columbia and RCMP clerks in Saskatchewan, many of the 110,000 jobs listed on the job bank are no longer available.

A litany of postings are several months old; some have been on the site for more than a year.

Some job-seekers also complain that they never heard back from employers after applying for jobs posted online.

An email address set up under a generic name by The Canadian Press has not received any replies to multiple queries about various job postings, including at companies that already employ temporary foreign workers.

Bill Wadsworth, a helicopter pilot in B.C., says he applied for jobs at numerous companies that he later learned were given a positive labour market opinion (LMO) that allowed them to hire temporary foreign workers.

“I had applied to, and had the qualifications, to work for 75 per cent of the LMOs,” he said in a recent interview.

“During my job search, I would contact these companies every two weeks on average. The response was always the same: ‘We have no openings.'”

Wadsworth said he now views the job bank with cynicism.

“The companies hiring the foreign workers have discovered that all they need to do is post a job online, wait a few weeks and then tell the government they had no Canadian applicants,” he said.

“Regardless of how many resumes they receive, they know there are no government checks in place.”

The NDP’s Jinny Sims, the party’s immigration critic, said the existence of outdated postings on the job bank is just another example of the government’s shoddy labour market data.

“Time and again the minister points to job vacancy numbers from the Canada Job Bank, data that is used to determine labour market opinions,” she said.

“However, that data is often old and postings are not removed when filled. In other words, decisions to permit temporary foreign workers are based on false information … Some post ads in the jobs bank just to qualify for the program.”

Kenney, however, praises the site.

He has said it receives seven million hits a month from job-seekers and that thousands of Canadians have signed up in the last two years to be notified about openings.

“The truth is that the site is a useful platform to connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs,” he said.

“The job alert service is now sending collectively hundreds of thousands of email alerts to unemployed Canadians, making them aware of available job postings.”

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum mocked that defence.

“It does not matter how many Canadians go on the site if the site does not work,” he said. “We know the site is so poorly maintained, so outdated, that job-seekers across the country are facing huge frustrations.”

The contentious foreign worker program has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country.

In 2013 alone, Ottawa approved approximately 240,000 temporary foreign workers.

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