Yukon retains its foreign workers

Dan Charlebois is a big supporter of the Yukon Nominee Program. Of 110 staffers, about 40 are currently in the two-year program, said the owner and manager of Whitehorse's Canadian Tire.

Dan Charlebois is a big supporter of the Yukon Nominee Program.

Of 110 staffers, about 40 are currently in the two-year program, said the owner and manager of Whitehorse’s Canadian Tire.

Others have gained their permanent residency through the program and have remained in the business – some even moved on to management-level positions.

“We wouldn’t be able to run our business without it,” said Charlebois.

“Customers would not be able to get the level of service that they’ve become accustomed to.”

The Yukon government is negotiating with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to extend the Yukon Nominee Program.

The territory’s program differs from most temporary foreign worker programs to the south in that the workers aren’t actually considered temporary.

The goal is for the worker to achieve permanent residency and eventually Canadian citizenship.

Preferably, once they achieve this, they’ll decide to stay and work in the territory.

In order to maintain the program, the Yukon will have to prove that the program is working.

A large survey and report was created in June 2010, showing that businesses and workers alike were thrilled with the program.

But this report did not contain any information about retention rates.

The territory needs to prove that, once workers have their permanent residency status, they don’t immediately flee to Toronto or Vancouver.

The Department of Education, which runs the nominee program, will be surveying businesses this summer to learn about retention.

Charlebois knows what he’ll tell the surveyors when they call.

“So far we’re really pleased with the retention,” he said.

“I have some employees that came in 2008 and are still here. Some of them have bought houses and brought other members of their family. They’ve moved up to management positions and built a life here in the Yukon.”

Other workers have left the store, but many have gone on to other careers within the territory.

Some go on to cleaning services, but others go on to specialized careers like nursing – which they were often qualified to practise back home.

There are former Yukon nominees working at Copper Ridge Place and at least one of Charlebois’ former employees has applied to work as a nurse at Whitehorse General Hospital.

“I’d say well over 95 per cent are still in the Yukon,” he said.

“And they’re contributing to our community and our business.”

The Yukon Nominee Program began in 2007.

Since then, 537 nominees have made use of the program.

There are currently 353 people in the program.

Originally, it caused some concern in the territory.

Temporary foreign worker programs down south were mired in controversy, with little oversight. There were stories of people paying thousands of dollars to illegal recruitment firms only to find no job when they arrived.

Those who found work were sometimes severely mistreated.

And because a worker is tied to their employer for the duration of the program, the option is often to put up with the abuse or go home.

But so far, the only major issue with the program in the territory has been with two individuals who came to Alberta under the temporary foreign worker program, and then tried to switch to the Yukon.

It was found that they had broken the program’s rules and they were sent back to the Philippines.

Another concern was that foreign workers would drive down wages and steal jobs from locals.

“It’s a lot less expensive to hire local than to try to go overseas, and we’re always trying to hire local,” said Charlebois.

“But we’re just not having a lot of luck.”

A local student started a job at Canadian Tire last Monday and decided the next day it just wasn’t for her.

The week before, a young man also decided to quit, after working for 10 days.

Having the continuity of a worker committed for two years is a big bonus for employers. But it’s expensive to hire foreign workers.

First, employers have to find the worker somehow, which is becoming easier now as recent immigrants are beginning to recommend their family members for the program.

Then the employer has to pay for travel. And there’s also a lot of government red tape.

The biggest difficulty in Whitehorse is with finding housing. Again, it helps when new workers already have family members living in the territory who they can bunk in with.

“We’ve tried to hire people from Calgary and Ontario and Nova Scotia – and when they look at the price of houses now, here, compared to where they are, they can’t afford to move up here,” said Charlebois.

Canadian Tire has nominees from Germany and other countries as well. But most are Filipino.

That’s because there is a large support group for the Filipino community in the Yukon, said Charlebois.

Last February, the territory announced it was working on a new foreign worker program, to allow businesses to bring in short-term, seasonal workers.

The plan was to begin the program this summer.

However, the territory is still in the process of negotiating with Ottawa.

“They were working on the details, but the recent election has delayed that,” said Education spokesperson Chris Madden.

“They’re still in the process of negotiating at this point.”

Contact Chris Oke at