By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

Employers in the food service industry had their ability to hire Temporary Foreign Workers suspended in April, and while the suspension was lifted last week, employers across the board have been hit with heavy restrictions. And those operating in jurisdictions with above-average unemployment, such as the Columbia Valley, will no longer be allowed to use the program to fill jobs that offer below-average wages.

There are a number of business owners in the valley that are not happy, but this is the new program, said David Wilks, Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia. Minister [of Employment and Social Development Jason] Kenney is very steadfast in saying this is the way it will be.

Abuses reported in the Temporary Foreign Worker program brought it under close scrutiny and a subsequent suspension in the food service sector. Major changes were announced by the federal government on Friday, June 20th which have made the program much less enticing to use.

There will also be caps introduced for employers with more than ten employees. Employers cannot employ more than 30 per cent of their staff with temporary foreign workers this year, and that number will be reduced to 20 per cent in 2015, and ten per cent in 2016.

There will be much less value in utilizing the program. The cost for an employer to process an application has been raised from $275 to $1,000, and will only last half as long one year down from two.

The fact of the matter is, if [employers] need temporary foreign workers, it will cost more, Mr. Wilks.

Submitting those applications will also require more paperwork, as employers will have to produce evidence of applications received, subsequent follow-ups, and reasons for not hiring domestically.

To create more comprehensive data about employment, the reforms will also see Statistics Canada conducting two new surveys: a Job Vacancy Survey and a National Wage Survey. The Canada Job Bank will become more extensive at directing qualified applicants towards employers seeking help.

The scope and number of inspections will be massively increased, the federal press release reads, with annual audits happening upon 25 per cent of employers using the program. Inspectors can now review 21 program requirements, up from three.

The increased costs to use the program will offset the added enforcement, as taxpayers shouldnt be paying the costs for the employers that use the program, Mr. Wilks said.

Theres also been a virtual upgrade. The Temporary Foreign Worker programs tip line has been expanded and there will be a new website for complaints of abuse within the program. The governments website will also expand its reporting on blacklisted employers, who will now face greater penalties. The Canada Border Services Agency will have more resources to conduct more investigations into crimes involving the program.

If temporary foreign workers are lost by our employers, that could negatively affect levels of service in our tourism industry, said Susan Clovechok, executive director of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce. If that declines, then tourists could choose not to come here.

Mrs. Clovechok will be focusing on mitigating locally affected businesses, but said the changes are not good for business anywhere in Canada.

Its going to be a challenge for a lot of employers in the riding, agreed Mr. Wilks. Well work through it, and hopefully the majority of employers will be able to find Canadians to do the work needed in their business.

Mr. Wilks encourages any recommendations or suggestions employers have for Minister Kenney to be forwarded his way, though email, David.wilks@parl.gc.ca, or by calling his constituency office at 250-417-2250.

Were hoping that these changes will ensure compliance of the Temporary Foreign Worker program for years to come, he said.