The Estevan Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the proposed changes to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program could be detrimental for local businesses.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced an overhaul of the TFW program on June 20. It was billed as putting Canadians first, but Estevan chamber executive director Michel Cyrenne, and other business leaders in Saskatchewan and Alberta, believe that it will hurt Canada.
The new legislation offers a host of restrictions to go with penalties for businesses that violate the TFW program. But the restrictions that will have the greatest impact on southeast Saskatchewan will be TFW caps.
They can now only account for 30 per cent of employees at a business. In two years, that number will drop to 10 per cent.
Kenney's announcement came nearly two months after the federal government placed a moratorium on hiring TFWs for restaurants.
Cyrenne said the local business community has been reliant on TFW's to fill their employment needs and to maintain regular hours.
"Even with the program in place … it's been a struggle for many of them to keep fully staffed," said Cyrenne.
The changes will not benefit the local business community, Cyrenne said. He predicted the changes will create a strain on businesses with TFWs, and on others looking to explore that route.
"We've become accustomed to receiving good service when we're going out to restaurants and retailers … and if we're having to reduce the number of temporary foreign workers and reduce the service levels, it's going to have an impact throughout the community," said Cyrenne.
Restaurant owners have met with Cyrenne in his office. Others have called him. They feel they're being painted with a broad brush by a few outside of Estevan who have abused the TFW program.
He expects other sectors will be griping about the new restrictions soon, too.
“When the moratorium (on TFWs) was placed on the food services industry, those were the people that we were originally communicating with, so those would have been the first to react back to us,” said Cyrenne.
The impact might not be as harsh on other industries, but they will be hit hard.
The chamber wanted to see a simpler process, with less red tape and bureaucracy. But the federal government has made it more complex and cumbersome.
They would like to see it regionally based, similar to employment insurance.
“There are different regulations, different time frames and different thresholds, based on local conditions,” said Cyrenne.
In some parts of the country, the pending 10 per cent quota for TFWs might be acceptable, he said, but it's not viable or even possible for many southeast businesses.
Cyrenne suggested a new program should be implemented to make it easier for TFWs to apply for permanent residency, since many TFWs are filling permanent full-time jobs.
He also extended an invitation to Kenney to visit southeast Saskatchewan, so that the employment minister can see how these changes will be detrimental to the business community, and to all residents of the region.