POLITICS

EI changes' effect on foreign workers unclear

05/28/2012 09:07 EDT | Updated 07/28/2012 05:12 EDT

A franchise owner in Nova Scotia says he's unsure whether new rules for employment insurance will make it easier for him to find local workers over foreign ones.

Stephen Breed, the president of Down East Hospitality Inc., operates eight Tim Hortons locations, including one at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Breed hired 24 temporary workers from the Philippines to work at the airport location because he couldn't find Nova Scotians willing to travel for a full-time job that pays minimum wage.

"You have to have a car to get there, a lot of folks don't have cars," he told CBC News on Monday.

"They're talking about public transportation from metro, but that won't solve our problems out there. We need the transportation to come from the other direction because our employees don't live in metro as much as they live in Elmsdale and Stewiacke and that sort of thing."

Breed's first worker from the Philippines arrived four years ago when advertising failed to attract enough local workers. He said his other Tim Hortons locations in metro Halifax have plenty of local applicants.

A shortage of line cooks has prompted the Grafton Connor Group — which owns restaurants and clubs such as The Five Fishermen, Sunnyside Restaurant, The Dome and Cheers — to bring in 18 foreign cooks.

EI changes to be in place next year

Last week, federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley revealed details Thursday about plans to reform EI that would change the definitions of "suitable work" and "a reasonable job search."

Under new regulations expected to be in place by early 2013, the new definition of suitable employment would be based on criteria including personal circumstances, hours of work and commuting time.

Frequent claimants — those who have had three or more claims for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past five years — would be expected to accept any work they are qualified to do and to accept wages starting at 70 per cent of their previous hourly wage.

Finley has said that McDonald's, for example, shouldn't be bringing in foreign workers to do jobs that Canadians who are on EI have the skills to do.

Breed said it's not clear whether federal changes to EI will solve his personnel problems.

"What will probably happen in some cases is these folks don't really want to work for you, but they will. And that being the case, the won't be good employees. They won't be happy, you won't be happy," he said.

"I would say that some will work out just fine. So it's a double-edged sword as to whether this is going to be good for us or not."

Breed said one of his foreign workers at the airport's Tim Hortons location has become a supervisor and several others have applied to become residents of Nova Scotia.

He said while employers must pay transportation and housing costs for temporary workers who stay up to two years, it's not any more expensive than hiring and training Canadians when the turnover is 100 per cent each year.