Many Grande Prairie business owners and residents turned out this morning to hear Alberta’s labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk talk about the current state of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. Two weeks ago the Federal Government imposed a moratorium on the food service sector’s access to TFWs while they review the entire program. Lukaszuk says a review should have happened years ago.
“This program was a flawed program to begin with but it was the only program we had so we worked with it, but you don’t have to freeze an industry and develop a better program, you can actually bring better enforcement to the flawed program while you develop something better.”
There have been a number of allegations in recent months about an array of employers abusing the program. Lukaszuk says those cases are not indicitive of the majority of employers. He says he wants to work with Ottawa to get the moratorium lifted and perhaps even find a way for the province’s to handle those that are abusing the program.
“We can definitely help them with enforcement, so we can catch those bad apples and prosecute them. That’s something that a province can do, not under the current employment standards legislation because the feds haven’t given us that responsibility, but if they were to do so, we can do the enforcement for them”
Many in the community and across the province are concerned about their businesses staying afloat the longer the hiring freeze continues. Lukaszuk says there are over 80,000 Temporary Foreign Workers working in the Grande Prairie area, 15% of those are in the restaurant industry.
“You will start seeing the impact of it within a very short period of time, and at the end of the day, it will impact Canadians. If a restaurant has to shift from 24/7 to only 12 hour operation, there are Canadians on that midnight shift that will be losing their jobs alongside TFWs.”
Lukaszuk says it’s a humanitarian issue as much as a business issue. Any Temporary Foreign Workers who were in the process of renewing permits when the moratorium was suddenly imposed are now in limbo. If they are unable to renew those existing permits, they will be forced to leave the country when they expire, and many their families as well.