Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eateries face Kenney’s wrath

OTTAWA—Amid a roar of criticism, Employment minister Jason Kenney took action yesterday against the government’s scandal-ridden temporary foreign worker program by banning restaurants from accessing it.
Kenney issued the surprise moratorium hours after the C.D. Howe Institute released a damning study into the program that concluded it had spurred joblessness in B.C. and Alberta—two treasured Tory strongholds.

The smackdown to Canadian restaurants came despite Kenney’s insistence in recent weeks that only a small number of companies were abusing the program and his repeated vows to deal with those bad actors harshly, including with fraud charges if necessary.
“I am announcing an immediate moratorium on the food services sector’s access to the temporary foreign worker program,” Kenney said in a statement.
He added his ministry will not process any new or pending applications for temporary foreign workers from restaurant operators, and any unfilled positions tied to previous approval will be suspended.
“This moratorium will remain in effect until the completion of the ongoing review of the temporary foreign worker program,” he said.
Some stakeholders suggested Kenney’s latest effort was feeble.
“I don’t think he’s gone far enough,” said Stephen Hunt, the western Canada director for United Steelworkers.
“This is just another Band-aid that they seem to want to put on this program,” he charged.
Others were appalled.
Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, called the moratorium a “slap in the face” to Canadian entrepreneurs.
“A public conviction of an entire industry is deeply unfair to the thousands of restaurant operators who use the program appropriately and follow all of the rules,” he said.
“For some—particularly those in smaller communities, resort towns, or resource-rich areas—ending their ability to use the TFW program has real potential to put them out of business altogether,” Kelly warned.
Hundreds of Canadian companies and governmental departments employ temporary foreign workers, according to data compiled by Kenney’s department.
But there’s been an especially dramatic increase in the number of hotels and restaurants accessing the program under the Conservatives.
Fast-food giant McDonald’s has announced it is freezing its participation in the program pending a third-party audit after finding itself in hot water for hiring temporary foreign workers in B.C.
The program—originally designed to address shortages of skilled workers, not to recruit low-skilled labour—has ballooned from about 100,000 people in 2002 to as many as 338,000 now working across the country, according to the C.D. Howe report.
The institute, a non-partisan public policy think-tank, said changes to the program enacted between 2002 and 2013 made it much easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers.
Alberta and B.C. were particular benefactors.
But amid that hiring bonanza, the study concluded, a cumulative 3.9 percentage points was added to the unemployment rates in the two provinces.
“These policy changes occurred even though there was little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations,” wrote the report’s author, economist Dominique Gross.
“When controlling for differences across provinces, I find that changes to the TFWP that eased hiring conditions accelerated the rise in unemployment rates in Alberta and British Columbia,” Gross said.
The Conservative government has since tightened the regulations, but there have been a spate of high-profile allegations in recent months about an array of employers—particularly restaurants—abusing the program.
The C.D. Howe study, however, said that although the government’s 2013 crackdown on the program was a welcome move, it’s probably insufficient because of the absence of solid data about the state of Canada’s labour market.

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