POLITICS

Budget watchdog can't tell if employers need low-skilled foreign workers

03/12/2015 10:38 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT
The parliamentary budget officer's latest report on temporary foreign workers was unable to accomplish its original goal: to assess whether there is an actual need for low-skilled foreign workers in Canada due to labour shortages.

Jean-Denis Frechette blames a "lack of disaggregated data on labour demand and labour supply at the regional and local level."

He concluded he was unable to answer the question: Do employers really need to hire foreign workers for low-skilled jobs, or are there Canadians available to fill those jobs?

Instead he offered an overview of the system that the Conservative government has been trying to overhaul since stories of abuse surfaced in the media.

Frechette wrote that for the majority of foreign workers in Canada, employers do not have to evaluate the labour market first to see if Canadians are available.

That's because they enter Canada under two streams — the Temporary Foreign Worker stream and the International Mobility Program, neither of which requires the employer to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment first to find Canadians.

In fact, 70 per cent of foreign workers come in without one of those assessments.

Frechette did find that the size of the Canadian low-skilled workforce is shrinking, saying "businesses may continue to argue that there is still a need of foreign workers in low-skilled positions, at least in the short run."

But he also warned: "Care has to be taken that the policy parameters of the program allow market forces to work and make hiring foreign workers the last resort rather than the first option for businesses."