The territory’s announcement of its new Temporary Foreign Worker Program was met with controversy last month as critics expressed concern that businesses would hire migrant workers over Yukoners.
But it appears the local workforce needs not to worry, at least for now. The main industries that were targeted when the program was designed in 2008 – namely, the hospitality, tourism and mining industries – all indicate they have no plans to recruit temporary foreign workers in the near future.
Mining companies have been especially under the radar after media coverage exposed H.D. Mining International for recruiting Chinese workers to their coal mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., last year.
However, at the moment no mines need temporary foreign workers. “If we exhaust the labour force that’s here, we still have people in the communities that are available for labour. As we know of course, the industry has been suffering for the past couple of months here in the Yukon. At this time I don’t think we need any foreign workers,” said Mike Kokiw, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
Mines have also invested in training the local workforce to learn how to mine by funding Yukon College’s new mining program, he said.
Hiring locally has higher benefits for mines. “It’s much cheaper to have a local workforce than to be flying people in and out. Unless you’re flying workers en masse, it’s not really affordable,” Kokiw said.
Employers would also have to factor in upgrading foreign workers’ safety training and housing costs, he said.
Using migrant workers in larger scale operations or bigger mines could make sense, but no such mines exist in the Yukon, Kokiw added.
The Yukon Zinc Corporation, which laid off around 100 workers at its Wolverine mine in late June, plans to rehire local miners when it’s able to resume full production, said Shae Dalphond, a spokesperson for the company.
Even if migrant workers are not currently needed, Kokiw welcomes the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in case mines would need them in the future.
Heather McIntyre, the general manager of Westmark Hotel, also credited the government with being proactive in case of a labour shortage.
She was part of the consultations that took place in 2008 when the territory was looking into redesigning the program, which she said might have stemmed from a dry spell in 2006.
“It was very difficult to hire people that summer in particular – 2007 came and it was the Canada Winter Games and I think we got a whole lot more exposure,” she said.
However, as the economy is yet stuck in another downturn, she won’t be looking for temporary foreign workers any time soon either. Plus, since 1990, the Westmark has been hiring students from vocational colleges in B.C., Ontario and P.E.I. that offer a hospitality program, McIntyre said.
Northern Vision, which owns four major hotels in the territory, constantly needs workers, said CEO Richard Thompson. The real estate company owns the Edgewater, High Country Inn, Best Western Gold Rush and the Downtown Hotel in Dawson.
Northern Vision has not yet looked into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, he said.
Even the retail industry doesn’t seem interested in the program. Dwayne Lesiuk, Canadian Tire’s general manager, said that they have enough workers on staff.
But the company has recruited many workers from abroad through the Yukon Nominee Program, which allows the workers to eventually apply for permanent residency, unlike the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Canadian Tire has brought in around 60 workers since it opened in 2007, Lesiuk said. Most of the migrant workers came from the Philippines, a few from Japan, and two from Germany.
“We are really fortunate holding on to the original workers we brought over and (have had) increasing success finding locals.”
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