By Dan Walton
Reports of severe abuses within the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program have resulted in thick new layers of red tape enacted by the Conservatives. The reception has been cold in the Kootenay-Columbia riding where Tory MP David Wilks carries the unenviable task of toeing the party line. Defending the recent changes to the program is a tough sell in many parts of the country, but the Conservative Party knows how to pick its battles.
Since the changes were announced in July, the costs of hiring a TFW, the risk of being audited, and the amount of paperwork have all increased substantially and use of the program is now only an option for those operating in regions with below-average unemployment. Without a human resources department and deep pockets, employers can no longer make much use out of the program. And those with the resources to hire TWFs now have to reassess the value of those employees.
That doesnt sit well with voters in the Columbia Valley, where many of us rely on hospitality and tourism as a means of making a living.
Finding full-time, permanent staff for workplaces in a seasonally-driven economy is very impractical. Hospitality wages are not enticing enough to draw a fully-domestic workforce. And because of the above-average rate of unemployment in the Kootenay-Columbia riding, employers that can still afford to use the TFW program are prohibited from doing so.
But take a look at the big picture those changes are likely to appease a significant portion of the populace. Unemployment rates in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces are all above the national average. Those voters will be largely happy with the changes, with the feeling of they (TFWs) took our jobs being somewhat prevalent in those areas. TFWs were never meant to compete with unemployed Canadians, but regular use of the program had become the path of least resistance for many employers.
Many workplaces in Alberta and Saskatchewan benefitted from the use of the TFW program. While Prairie voters, where workplaces often yearn for workers, probably liked the program the way it was theyll likely tolerate the changes without punishing the Conservative Party at the polls. Alberta and Saskatchewan are where the Conservatives most strongly held ridings are located.
In their attempt to ensure that employers consider Canadians as the more appealing applicants, most positions (not berry pickers) occupied by TFWs must offer compensation above the Canadian minimum wage. Only a little more though. And suppose a domestic worker refused to perform unsafe or unfair work, they could take it to the Labour Relations Board. But realistically, that rarely happens. Often, the mistreated employee would quit, while a much more tolerant employee could be flown into Canada to work for a just fraction above minimum wage. Most businesses that used the program did not abuse it, but the temptation was strong for employers that did not respect Canadian labour laws.
Tourists will never stop coming to the valley for hospitality. And even if higher costs have to be built into meals and accommodations, visitors will continue to spend money at their favourite destinations. Competition throughout the hospitality sector in Canada will remain level; most resort communities will be forced to deal with the same challenge. No matter the economic climate, strong businesses survive. But amid this nasty weather on Mr. Wilks watch, many valley voters could blame the Conservative Party for brewing the storm.
As the Conservatives focus on which seats they aim to win in the 2015 election, they might be shy about wasting too many resources in ridings that feel mistreated. Especially one thats absorbing the NDP stronghold of Nelson.