TFWP must be fixed or eliminated

This past week, more concerning revelations about systemic abuse of the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) by McDonald’s came to light.
So disturbing are the revelations that I think we need to hit “pause” on the program to figure out whether or not it can be saved at all.
You’ve probably heard the Harper government and its supporters more than once say that there are lots of jobs in Canada, but that we have a skills mismatch. These jobs require specific skills, such as metal workers, pipefitters, and carpenters, but the Canadians looking for work simply aren’t qualified to fill them.
If true, such a shortage of skilled workers could cause the economy could grind to a halt. Pipelines would be built slower, housing construction could lag, and manufacturing could suffer.
These professions require years of work so any worker shortage often takes years to fill with properly-trained Canadian workers.
If such a shortage actually existed.
It is because of the threat posed by regional and national skilled labour shortages that we have a Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). It was created to help companies in need of skilled workers, and allows them to sponsor foreign workers where there is a shortage of those skills in the Canadian workforce.
The major concession is that the firms who use the TFWP are allowed to pay the temporary foreign workers 15 percent less than the average wage paid to Canadians.
In short, the program was designed to keep the economy moving for a short period of time while the government focused on training Canadians to fill these skilled positions permanently.
Unfortunately, the TFWP has been a spectacular failure for at least two reasons. First, there is no evidence that there is a skilled worker shortage in Canada.
Secondly, the program has been poorly monitored and is being badly abused by large companies like McDonald’s, which have imported unskilled workers to fill positions in the economy that almost any Canadian youth, adult, or senior could fill.
First, we know now there is no shortage of skilled workers in Canada. You will recall a few weeks back that I wrote about how the Harper government was using Kijiji to obtain its job statistics after firing half the staff at Statistics Canada.
To no one’s surprise, it was discovered that people and employers were posting “fake” openings for skilled jobs or posting the same job many times on various sites.
Once the Conservatives were alerted to their bad data, it was found, in fact, there was no skilled labour shortage in Canada. What’s worse is that the Conservatives were using the bad data mentioned to actually expand the TFWP to fill this non-existent skilled labour gap.
The second problem is that the program is being grossly abused by companies like McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, and the Royal Bank, among many others.
These companies have abused the TFWP by using it to bring in unskilled workers to fill jobs that easily could be filled by Canadians without a trade certificate or even industry experience, or as a launching pad for outsourcing work—and Canadian jobs—overseas.
News last week about McDonald’s abuse of the program was particularly appalling. The CBC reported that 268 McDonald’s restaurants around the country have used the TFWP to bring in low-wage foreign workers to fill jobs at their restaurants.
These jobs require training on the job, but no specific skills or trades, and often are filled by students or seniors.
This particular practice is diametrically opposed to the objectives of the program and likely has taken thousands of jobs away from Canadians.
Once this deception was made public, what did McDonald’s do? Its CEO held an emergency conference call with franchisee owners to explain how the company was the victim of a smear.
For our part, New Democrats see a need for a government program to help keep the economy moving when a local, regional, or national skilled worker shortage actually exists.
But this program, when combined by the bad labour market data collected and used by the Harper government, is a failure that is doing more harm than good for the Canadian economy.
We want a moratorium on the program, and for the Auditor General to investigate whether or not the abuse is something that can be stopped or whether the Temporary Foreign Worker Program should be scrapped altogether.
It’s the right thing to do.