05/26/2014 08:43 EDT | Updated 05/26/2014 09:59 EDT

Minimum-Wage TFW Jobs OK'd By Ottawa; Restaurant Ban To Be Lifted?


The federal government approved more than 15,000 temporary foreign worker (TFW) positions at minimum wage over the past four years, a fact labour leaders say undermines the argument that the TFW program is needed in a supposedly overheating labour market.

The news comes as a Conservative MP says the government’s ban on TFWs in restaurants could be lifted by the end of June -- with new rules in place that could halt the hiring of TFWs at minimum wage.

According to documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour and provided to the Globe and Mail, the federal government approved 15,006 minimum-wage positions between March 31, 2010, and Feb. 10, 2014. Only Ontario’s numbers go all the way back to 2010, so the total number is likely higher, the Globe notes.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan suggested the minimum-wage approvals are evidence the TFW program is being used where legitimate labour shortages don’t exist.

“There should be very, very few [TFW] jobs at minimum wage, but from these documents, they’ve just approved thousands in what is supposed to be a hot labour market,” he said, as quoted at the Globe.

The government argues the approvals were in line with policy at the time, as minimum wage was the “prevailing wage” for those jobs. Most of the approvals were for live-in caregivers.

Meanwhile, a British Columbia MP says Employment Minister Jason Kenney is aiming to lift the moratorium on restaurants’ use of TFWs by early June.

Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer told Business in Vancouver the government wants a new plan for TFWs in restaurants approved by cabinet within weeks, but stressed he “can’t say for sure” the new policy will be ready by that time.

Kenney imposed a moratorium on the hiring of temporary foreign workers by restaurants in April, following a series of allegations of abuses of foreign workers and Canadian restaurant workers losing their jobs to make way for foreign workers.

Lobby group Restaurants Canada has warned that restaurants in areas with severe labour shortages could close as a result of the moratorium.

Kenney is reportedly considering creating a “wage floor” that would make it impossible to hire TFWs at minimum wage. The higher wage would also encourage businesses to raise the wages they offer to Canadians before seeking out foreign workers.

But that idea has met with resistance from business groups. Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says a wage floor would essentially ban large sectors of the economy from using the program, even in places where there are legitimate labour shortages.

But labour advocates and opponents of the program say the TFW program depresses Canadians’ wage growth, as it means employers don’t have to raise wages significantly to find workers.

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