Jerico Espinas, Contributor
In recent years more businesses have looked to hire temporary foreign workers in order to fill growing labour shortages. The federal government acknowledges this need, and sees foreign recruitment as a way to promote economic recovery. In fact, Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley announced on April 25 the creation of a new online system that aims to speed up foreign, temporary employment.
Traditionally, employers have had to apply for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) before they could begin hiring foreign workers. By applying for an LMO, they acknowledge that they made an effort to hire within Canada and that they are willing to hire a foreign worker for a two-year period. The federal government is expected to process up to 150,000 of these LMOs every year – creating a large backlog of applications that could take months to even be looked at. Of course, this is not to mention the worker’s visa application, which could stall employment even further.
With the new system, employers can submit their applications online, thus cutting paperwork and speeding up LMOs by automating certain steps of the process. Notably, the new system has built-in precautions that are meant to prevent an influx of cheap, foreign workers coming into Canada.
- The first of these precautions is a prerequisite – that only businesses with an unblemished two-year history of foreign employment can use the online application process.
- Second, companies are encouraged to hire highly skilled workers, such as welders, in order to promote more skilled immigration.
Despite these precautions, the entire system could be debilitated with new changes to the wage rules for foreign workers. “For added flexibility, wages up to 15% below the average wage rate will be accepted,” said Finley during her announcement in Nisku, Alberta. This unprecedented change could completely alter hiring practices with regards to temporary foreign employment by promoting a two-tiered wage system that encourages hiring low-end workers.
By making foreign workers cheaper to hire, it gives businesses less incentive to hire locally; in order to stay ahead of the competition, employers are forced to hire cheaper foreign labour. As well, by making wages 15% less than the average, high-skilled workers are more likely to look south of the border for employment in order to reap the full benefits of their abilities. Consequently, this means an increase of desperate overseas workers, eager to work for long hours and less pay to enter Canada.
This system also raises concerns that Canada will slowly implement its version of Europe’s Blue Card system, wherein foreign guest workers are paid less and treated worse than national citizens. Of course, this exploitative direction is a far cry from our international image as a pro-immigrant nation.
Undoubtedly, there are honest steps in this new system to ensure fair employment of foreign, highly-skilled workers. But it now rests on companies’ shoulders to see if this ideal – and, indeed, our national image – will be upheld.