Changes to temporary foreign workers program will have long-term negative affects, industry proponents say

Harry Sullivan
Published on July 25, 2014
The McDonalds restaurants in Truro experiencing staffing difficulties following a recent moratorium on the federal temporary foreign workers program, and the situation will only get worse, the local owners says.

TRURO - The federal government's tinkering with the temporary foreign workers program is creating havoc in the labour markets which is only going to get worse, a local restaurant owner says.

"I can tell you it hasn't helped at all," Truro McDonald's owner Larry Swenson said, of the federal government's recent decision to place a moratorium on the use of temporary foreign workers and the subsequent changes made to the program.

"I can tell you that this government's approach to this didn't help because it made it very uncertain whether or not they were going to get work permits," he said, of the Filipino workers he had previously hired for his three locations.

"And it was very costly for me as a businessman because I had invested quite a bit of money in this program. It was just one of those cases where the government introduced a policy where there was no winners. That's just the way it is."

That position was supported by Garth Whyte, president of Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Food Association), who said the labour situation - both within and outside of the food service industry - is going to suffer because Canada's long-term demographics "are not on our side.

"So unless the government comes up with a different program that gets workers into this country I don't know what is going to happen to the economy," he said.

"Essentially the moratorium is continuing in our minds. In theory they've lifted it but they've made the rules so restrictive and they restricted it to one year. They've increased the costs and they've defined the regions but not the sub regions. They've made it very, very difficult to proceed with the program," Whyte said.

"And this is bigger than temporary foreign workers. We're talking about a shortage of labour that is coming. It's already happening in some regions and it's coming across the country. And in eastern Canada there's a shortage in particular of cooks and semi skilled jobs because they're going to Alberta. So it makes it very, very difficult."

Swenson said he lost his some of his foreign workers to Alberta and Halifax following the moratorium when he could not offer assurances that they could be reinstated.

"We have had challenges getting people," he said, adding some of his overnight shifts at the Robie Street franchise have had to be cancelled because of the situation.

"We have to close it on some nights because we just can't get the staff to work it," Swenson said.

"The long and the short of it is, for a small business, this program has been a disaster."

And Swenson agreed with Whyte's assessment that the moratorium and subsequent changes to the program - which began when the government determined some employers were abusing it by failing to ensure local help was not available - will have long-standing implications.

"It affects a lot of people, (both within and outside the food service industry)," he said.

"For us it was difficult. And we will get through it but we'll get through it with fewer people. But long term, the demographics are not on our side. So unless the government comes up with a different program that gets workers into this country I don't know what is going to happen to the economy."

Twitter: @tdnharry