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Kenney way off base

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2014 10:00 am

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The topic of temporary foreign workers is a hot one, and one that is being discussed in most communities across the country. St. Albert is not an exception.

Mostly employed in service jobs such as fast food and hotels, temporary foreign workers really found a niche in Alberta in the early to mid-2000s as the oil patch boomed. As the energy industry was offering annual wages upwards of $160,000 for workers who, in theory, didnít even need a high school diploma, other industries were struggling to find workers.

The program has been under criticism lately after allegations arose that temporary foreign workers were being abused and exploited by fast-food companies employing them, but thatís not the only controversy thatís surrounded this program.

CBC previously reported that an Alberta company owned by a Ukrainian Orthodox priest admitted in court Oct. 9, 2012 to bringing in dozens of Polish welders and industrial workers under false pretences and skimming their pay to the tune of about $1 million.

Following this was the revelation a few weeks ago of a fast-food chain in B.C. accused of exploiting foreign workers. The allegations came not from an investigation from the federal government, which is responsible for the TFW program, but from the workers themselves who went to the media.

So what does the federal government do in response? Employment Minister Jason Kenney completely suspends restaurants from accessing the TFW program suggesting he had no idea what the program was designed to do and doesnít care. Why? Because the stories about a few isolated abuses might reflect poorly on Prime Minister Stephen Harper Ė and your cabinet tenure ends quickly when that happens.

The Harper government is using an anvil to squash a bug. The truth of the matter is the TFW program is needed in parts of the country where employers either canít get Canadians to apply for jobs or the Canadians who apply for the jobs are literally unemployable. Of course employers would rather hire Canadians first, but for various reasons this is not possible. For example, perhaps the job is a minimum-wage position, making it more advantageous for the Canadian to remain on Employment Insurance rather than taking the job offered. There may also be health reasons, incompetence, etc.

There are two issues at play: employer abuse of the program and the legitimate need for the program. The Harper government has been suckered by the former and completely overreacted. Employers have paid TFWs under the table at a rate less than minimum wage, and they have made them work long hours not allowed by law. This abuse is unacceptable, but that doesnít mean the program isnít needed.

Obviously the federal government needs to look closely at job programs for Canadians, ensuring they meet domestic needs first, then apply a fair and even-handed TFW program with proper oversight and consequences for abuse to address workforce shortages.


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