Temporary Foreign Worker Program spurs mixed reactions

The launch of the Yukon's Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been met with support, resentment and frustration. Politicians, unions, business owners and workers disagree as to its benefits.

The launch of the Yukon’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been met with support, resentment and frustration. Politicians, unions, business owners and workers disagree as to its benefits.

The territory announced Wednesday that employers may now recruit migrant workers through a pilot program of the TFWP. Employers no longer have to apply for a Labour Market Opinion, an authorization from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) that ensures there is indeed a shortage of local workers for a job opening. Instead, employers need only advertise the job for four weeks to prove they first sought Canadian candidates.

The education department, which runs the TFWP, will be following the same guidelines as HRSDC to ensure migrant workers are really needed for a job, said immigration manager Marius Curteanu. It’s also the first time a jurisdiction will be working with the workers’ compensation board to ensure labour standards and safety measures are being met, Curteanu said.

While partnering with the board is commended, the TFWP is still a short-term approach to employment, said Official Opposition NDP leader Liz Hanson. “Canada is founded on immigration as a nation state. Most of us don’t have to go very far in our gene pool to find an immigrant parent or grandparent,” she said. The TFWP has become a way to reverse immigration, shutting the door to the workers who want to stay in Canada, Hanson argued.

She also criticized the government for not being fully transparent with the program. To ensure there are real shortages, the government should publish where workers are being recruited and for how long, she said.

Curteanu said the new TFWP is designed for the tourism and mining industries, which require seasonal workers. Asked to name specific employers, Curteanu said it would be “unfair” to mention some companies and not others.

Workers can still apply for residency through the Yukon Nominee Program if employers can prove their need ends up being for an “undetermined” period of time, rather than seasonal, Curteanu said. Also, migrant workers can apply for residency through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) or Federal Skilled Trades Program after a year’s employment, he added.

However, only managers and professionals can apply for the CEC, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website. Miners need to have two years’ work experience to apply for the skilled trades program – but the pilot TFWP caps migrant workers’ contracts at one year.

Some business owners said they were happy with the availability of migrant workers. Employers do try to find local workers first to avoid the paperwork and government process of the TFWP, said Peter Turner, president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.

Turner also asserts that migrant workers in the Yukon only make up a small portion of the labour force. Indeed, according to statistics on Citizenship and Immigration Canada, around 200 migrant workers were recruited annually to the territory since 2008. The number recruited in 2012 was 256. He also adds that unemployment in the Yukon is low compared to the rest of the country. According to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, unemployment sits at 4.9 per cent as of June.

Use of the TFWP in Canada has ignited heated debate. The Conference Board of Canada said that unemployment stood at 7.1 per cent across Canada in June, with joblessness among young workers double that figure at 14.1 per cent, in a report it released Tuesday. Despite the availability of workers, the use of the TFWP has skyrocketed to over 340,000 in December, showing an exponential growth since 2006 when around 150,000 migrant workers were brought into Canada.

Like Hanson, union leaders also argue that employers use migrant workers to suppress wages and erode labour rights. “A lot of employers don’t want TFWs to know about unions, or tell workers that they have benefits,” Vikki Quocksister, the president of the Yukon Federation of Labour said.

Some migrant workers use the TFWP as a stepping stone to enter Canada. The Philippines has been the largest source of workers through the TFWP since 2007, so the Canadian Filipino Association in the Yukon has a large stake in the program.

Filipinos prefer to stay in Canada for good because “corruption in the government is very minimal compared to back home,” said Mike Buensuceso, the group’s president. However, as a business owner himself, Buensuceso also welcomes the TFWP. It’s faster to recruit a migrant worker through the TFWP than through the nominee program, he said.

He’s heard of cases where Filipinos have been waiting for permanent residency for three or four years, despite submitting all the required documents for their cases. Eduard New is one of them.

New is a temporary foreign worker who has worked at Northerm, manufacturing windows, since 2008. He left his wife and teenage son in the Philippines in the hopes of giving them a brighter future, due to the corruption and lack of jobs in his home country.

While Northerm nominated New to permanent residency two years ago, he still has not received approval for his application. He’s anxious to sponsor his wife so she can contribute to the expensive housing costs in Whitehorse.

“It’s hard, because I’m separated from my family,” New said. “I’m always stressed, thinking about them, wondering how they are.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at