Employment Minister Jason Kenney fired back at the Liberals Thursday, introducing a 2009 letter from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in which he sought a work permit for a Chinese chef at a Canadian restaurant popular with his father, the late Pierre Trudeau. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Employment Minister Jason Kenney is set to bring in at least two new rules for businesses that want to hire temporary foreign workers, including the requirement to pay those workers more, CBC News has learned.
Kenney will also tie the number of temporary foreign workers a company is allowed to the unemployment rate
The goal is to raise the cost of hiring temporary foreign workers and to make it harder to hire them in regions with higher unemployment.
But the head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says he's afraid Kenney's moves will gut the program.
"Retail, restaurant margins are already razor thin," Dan Kelly said.
"I fully expect that particularly across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, there will be restaurant closures as a result of this, taking Canadian jobs with them."
Employers and labour groups met with Kenney on Thursday and say Kenney didn't tell them that he is committed to the new measures.
Coming in weeks
Labour groups, on the other hand, are more supportive of the wage measure, hoping businesses will hire Canadians instead of temporary foreign workers.
"This is clearly a program in crisis, so sometimes you really need to make dramatic change in order to fix it," said Jerrry Dias, national president of UNIFOR, the country's largest private-sector union.
It's not clear how much the government will make businesses pay temporary foreign workers, or whether Canada's labour statistics are detailed enough to link the workers to unemployment.
Kenney is expected to announce the plan in the next few weeks.
The new rules expected to be announced will come after two former longtime waitresses at a Saskatchewan restaurant, who say they lost their jobs to foreign workers, told the House of Commons finance committee that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program needs to be fixed.
"We sit before you today as proof the TFW program is broken," Sandy Nelson said in her opening statement to the committee on Thursday.
The two want the government to take a closer look at employers who submit false Labour Market Opinions.
LMOs are a process by which employers demonstrate there are no Canadians to take available jobs. Since 2002, the federal government has allowed companies to hire temporary foreign workers for jobs they can't fill with Canadians.
In an interview with CBC News, Shaunna Jennison-Yung said their main point is that there are abuses to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for both Canadians and foreign workers that need to be addressed.
"We're hoping today we can talk to the right people and hopefully get some answers. Not only that, but let's fix this problem," she said.
Nelson and Jennison-Yung were both waitresses at Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza in Weyburn, Sask., until March 29, when they were dismissed and replaced with temporary foreign workers, they said.
'Blatant abuse of federal guidelines'
In her testimony, Nelson weaved in elements of her experience as she outlined her concerns about the TFW program.
Nelson asked if Service Canada was notified in the case of her former employer discharging all employees save for a select few.
"Were new LMO contracts supplied for and were [records of employment] issued?" she asked.
"This to us is a blatant abuse of the federal guidelines."
Nelson also noted that temporary foreign workers are hired for very specific jobs.
"Is it not against the rules to have someone hired as a waitress/server to then work in housekeeping while the restaurant was under construction, without a change to the contract?" she asked, referring to what she witnessed in Saskatchewan.
Lack of information for Canadians
Nelson also raised the issue of foreign workers hired as housekeepers being asked "to do chores such as yard work and cleaning" at the boss's house.
"This is paramount to slavery, and as contract workers, they simply oblige," she said.
As she continued, Nelson lamented the lack of information readily available to Canadians regarding "reverse discrimination they may be experiencing in their workplaces." She called on the government to provide "more than a telephone number" for Canadians to report abuses.
"We believe reasons more people don't speak up include not knowing what their rights are, no one to actually handle complaints and having others turn it into a racist issue," she said.
Nelson said they received a letter from the office of Employment and Social Development Minister Kenney regarding the issue, but owing to privacy issues, they were not informed of what the minister's office found.
"It has been quoted time and time again the government will not tolerate employers [hiring temporary foreign workers] when Canadian workers are available and willing to do the same jobs," she said in her statement.
"Yet here we are."