(Recast with industry reaction, confirmation of details)
By Randall Palmer and Louise Egan
OTTAWA May 16 Possible changes to make it
harder to bring temporary foreign workers into Canada may force
some restaurants to curb their hours or even shut down, and
could hamper important exports if not properly structured,
employers groups warned on Friday.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister
Chris Alexander on Thursday bandied about with employers and
unions several ideas for reforming the temporary foreign worker
program, which has recently come under enormous criticism.
Participants said options discussed in the meeting included
increased government fees for guest workers and requiring
employers to pay them more. Others included numerical caps on
permits, limiting access in areas of high unemployment and
differentiating more between business sectors.
The situation has exploded into one of the top issues facing
the government because of stories of foreign workers displacing
Canadians at some McDonald's Corp restaurants,
complaints from Canadians unable to find jobs, and word of some
guest workers being mistreated by their bosses.
The trade group Restaurants Canada was alarmed by the idea
of a wage floor for temporary foreign workers, possibly higher
than the prevailing wage, and sharply higher government fees.
"To price these temporary foreign worker jobs so high that
there's no way that our restaurants will have access to them is
going to be really problematic," said Joyce Reynolds, who
attended the meeting.
She said a temporary moratorium that Kenney slapped on the
restaurant sector last month was already causing
"a real feeling of desperation" among restaurant owners in
places like Edmonton, capital of the oil province of Alberta.
Kenney did not say what the government should charge for
temporary foreign workers but mentioned the possibility of "a
dissuasive fee like in the U.S," one participant said. The
United States can charge $2,325 or more in combined fees
compared with the C$275 ($252) currently charged in Canada, plus
a visa fee often of C$150.
Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers &
Exporters, distanced himself from the restaurants, saying no
company should build its business model around the temporary
foreign worker program.
But Myers opposed punitive government fees, and said crucial
exporters like car manufacturers could be adversely affected by
proposed changes. Windsor, Ontario - Canada's car capital - has
high unemployment but Myers said automakers needed to be able to
bring in foreign technicians sometimes for as short as a week to
retool a plant or to train.
Canada's largest private-sector union, Unifor, said reforms
to refocus the program onto skilled labor would restore
credibility. "This will stop the back-alley shop from bringing
in somebody to flip burgers ... they're not going to pay
thousands of dollars to bring them over and then pay above the
going wage," Unifor President Jerry Dias said.
Chris Roberts of the Canadian Labour Congress, however, said
no amount of tinkering with fees would address the "built-in
exploitation and abuse" foreign workers face since they are tied
to one employer and therefore unable to switch companies.
(Editing by Tom Brown)