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PBO: Temporary Foreign Worker Program May Be Taking 1/4 Of New Jobs

The number of job opportunities in Canada is shrinking, and the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program may be to blame, according to an overlooked comment in a recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The report also suggests that one-quarter of new jobs in Canada could be going to temporary foreign workers.

New data from StatsCan, released Tuesday, show the number of job openings in Canada continues to shrink, sitting near its lowest points since StatsCan started measuring the data in 2011.

There was an average of 219,000 job vacancies in Canada in 2013, down from 252,000 in 2012, StatsCan reported. Competition for jobs is also growing: There were 6.2 unemployed people per job in 2013, compared to 5.4 unemployed per job the year before.

The PBO report, released last month, suggests that the TFW program may be behind the shrinking job opportunities.

“A higher portion of TFWs in the private sector could also be putting downward pressure on the private-sector job vacancy rate, as the presence of the [foreign worker program] leaves labour demand broadly unaffected while reducing the number of job vacancies,” the report said.

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The report found little evidence of the labour shortages and skills mismatches that have largely been used to justify the existence of the TFW program.

But, tellingly, it also noted that the increase in foreign worker approvals in 2012 was equivalent to 25.6 per cent of the increase in jobs that year, “despite total [TFW approvals] representing only 1.1 per cent of the labour force.”

It doesn't offer specific numbers, but StatsCan data shows total jobs grew by some 240,000 in 2012, while foreign worker approvals grew by about 51,000.

That would suggest the possibility that some one-quarter of new jobs being created in Canada recently are going to temporary foreign workers, even as Canada’s labour market struggles through some of its slowest growth since the Great Recession.

The report hedges its bets a bit on this, noting that some TFW approvals don’t result in hiring, while some temporary foreign workers don’t require approval.

So it can’t be said for certain that one-quarter of new jobs are going to temporary foreign workers, but the numbers do give an indication of the scale of the TFW program’s influence on Canada’s labour market.

Controversy over the TFW program erupted once again this week, when it emerged that the federal government is investigating three McDonald’s restaurants in British Columbia for allegedly violating the rules of the program.

The B.C. Federation of Labour is considering launching a boycott of McDonald’s if the chain doesn’t commit to stopping the use of temporary foreign workers.

Critics say the TFW program was never meant to be used to fill low-skilled jobs such as those at fast food restaurants, but employers from Canadian Tire to Sears to Loblaws are all among the major users of the program.

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