HALIFAX—The use of temporary foreign workers tripled in Atlantic Canada between 2005 and 2012, says a new report that warns changes to the controversial program could make it more difficult for businesses to use it.
The report by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council said the number of foreign workers in the region rose to 10,913 in 2012 from 3,499 on Dec. 1, 2005.
Still, they account for small percentage of the overall labour force in the area.
“Despite the rapid growth in the number of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada, they account for only a tiny fraction of total employment,” David Chaundy, a senior economist with the think-tank, said in a news release.
In 2012, temporary foreign workers represented one per cent of total employment in the Atlantic region, compared with 1.9 per cent nationally, he said.
The council said the largest increases were in lower-paying, lower-skill occupations, such as fish plant and food service workers.
The report suggests the number of temporary foreign workers employed in fish plants in Atlantic Canada grew from five in 2005 to 960 in 2012, with 90 per cent of them working in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Chaundy also said the federal program continues to be an important tool for the recruitment of managerial, professional or specialized technical workers needed for short-term work.
That might become more difficult if the federal government alters the program significantly, he said, following allegations of abuse by companies that fired Canadian employees in favour of cheaper foreign workers.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced a moratorium on hiring new temporary foreign workers in the food service industry last month and new rule changes are expected soon.
The government also raised the possibility of exempting areas of the country with full employment from any crackdown measures.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has ballooned under the federal Conservative government.
As many as 338,000 temporary workers are employed across the country, up from about 100,000 people in 2002.
In 2013 alone, Ottawa approved about 240,000 temporary foreign workers.
The program allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary labour and skill shortages when qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not available.