05/09/2014 01:57 EDT | Updated 07/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Federal job-bank database, part of TFW program, offers jobs long since filled

OTTAWA - The positions advertised on Ottawa's job bank sound enticing: bilingual customer service representatives for a company called Moneris Solutions in three New Brunswick cities, offering a competitive base salary, benefits, an annual bonus and an employee share ownership plan.

Just one problem: the posting went up in September and the jobs have long since been filled, even though the ad remains online on the job bank site.

The posting is just one of 112,853 jobs listed on the site Friday. But hundreds of those postings — from food service supervisors in B.C. to RCMP clerks in Saskatoon — went online several months ago and have already been filled.

A critical component of the besieged labour market opinion process, Canada's job bank is frequently lauded by the federal government. Employers are required to post job listings seeking Canadian workers first, and leave those ads up for four weeks, before they can be given the green light to hire temporary foreign workers.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney has said the job bank receives seven million hits a month from job-seekers. Tens of thousands of Canadians, he adds, have signed up for alerts about job openings in the past two years.

The government also relies in part from job bank data to determine what regions of the country are clamouring for labour.

But job-seekers complain that many of the jobs are old, and that employers rarely respond to emailed applications or queries for more information about the positions being advertised.

"I probably apply for about five jobs a month from the job bank and I have for a few months," said one job-seeker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of harming his employment prospects.

"I have never heard a word back from any of the companies I've applied to."

An email address set up by The Canadian Press in recent weeks has also failed to garner any responses from employers when asking for more information about postings in various sectors. One of the jobs included a shelf-stocking position at a Canadian Tire in Red Deer, Alta., that already employs several temporary foreign workers.

Some are suspicious of the job bank's true purpose as outrage mounts over the litany of federal and provincial government departments and companies — dog spa owners and hair salon operators among them — that have turned to temporary foreign workers in recent years.

Employers need only tell the government that they were unable to find a qualified Canadian after posting their positions on the job bank. There's scant oversight to ensure they're telling the truth.

"It's my opinion that many of the aviation jobs posted on the job bank are just there to fulfill the requirement that jobs must be posted there before an LMO is applied for," said Gilles Hudicourt, an Air Transat pilot who's become a vocal critic of the temporary foreign worker program in the aviation sector.

"I suspect that by the time employers are forced to place these ads on the job bank in order to qualify for an LMO, the temporary foreign workers they intend to hire already have names, faces and are, for all practical purposes, already employed by the Canadian employer. The ad just gives a false sense of hope to Canadian applicants."

The government acknowledged that Employment and Social Development Canada, in partnership with provinces, territories and external partners, maintains the site.

"However, employers are responsible for determining the length of time their job ad is featured on the job bank," a spokeswoman for the department said in an email.

"Employers ought to remove ads from the site if the position for the ad is filled .... It is important to note that it is the employers' responsibility to acknowledge receipt of application, arrange interviews or provide feedback on results of a hiring practice."

She added that if government officials are notified about ads on the site that have already been filled, the postings will be removed after consultation with employers.

Don Drummond, an economist who presented the government last year with 69 recommendations aimed at improving the quality of the information on Canada's labour markets, says the number of outdated postings on the job bank is yet another black eye for the Conservatives.

"It's certainly bizarre; surely they can develop some kind of automated mechanism that removes the job postings after four months, because it's hard to imagine anyone would be looking for employees for longer than that," said Drummond.

"You can't blame it on the employers; it's the government's site. And it would be simple to have protocols in place that removed outdated postings."

Such tweaks could also help provide the government with a more accurate picture of labour needs across the country, he added.

Follow Lee-Anne Goodman on Twitter at @leeanne25