Yukon seeks temporary foreign worker program

The Yukon government hopes to soon have its own temporary foreign worker program. At least 1,370 temporary foreign workers have worked in the territory, but they have come under the federal program.

The Yukon government hopes to soon have its own temporary foreign worker program.

At least 1,370 temporary foreign workers have worked in the territory, but they have come under the federal program.

The Yukon wants its own program in order to better respond to local demands for labour.

The agreement to annex the federal program was signed in 2008, but has yet to come into effect.

But that is expected to change soon, said government spokesperson Matthew Grant. He couldn’t say exactly when.

“That actually hasn’t gone through cabinet yet, so if and when that goes through cabinet we would have more to say at that point,” he said.

Tourism, hospitality and mining are the industries that have expressed a need for temporary foreign workers.

Unlike the Yukon Nominee Program, temporary foreign workers fill a short-term gap in labour supply, after which they are sent back to where they came from. They do not eventually become eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship.

The government has partnered with the federal government as well as the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board on the program.

“Right now, to my knowledge, nowhere in Canada are the temporary foreign worker programs co-ordinated with Occupational Health and Safety. This will be the first,” said Mark Hill, WCB’s director of corporate services.

Under the proposed new program, employees applying to hire temporary foreign workers would have to meet with the WCB and prove that they have sufficient training and orientation programs in place to keep workers safe, he said.

The WCB would play an active role in monitoring the safety of work sites where foreign labour is used, said Hill.

“We are intently aware of the fact that many countries that are source countries for temporary foreign workers have lower occupational health and safety standards,” said Hill. Many of them don’t know what a workers’ compensation system is. That’s part of what they need to be introduced to.

“And then there can be cultural challenges where we, in Canada and certainly under Yukon law, there is not only a right but a responsibility to refuse unsafe work, for example. In some Asian cultures the idea of questioning authority is just completely outside the culture. It’s not something you would ever do. So finding a way to say, ‘No actually, you help the employer, you help the workplace and it’s your responsibility to speak up.’”

The NDP Opposition worries that the program will supplant efforts to hire Yukoners.

“We think that temporary foreign workers should be used as a last resort,” said NDP leader Liz Hanson. “We should be focusing on making sure that we’ve done everything that we can in terms of building and training and strengthening our local workforce. And that means addressing the challenging issues of the 25 per cent or more unemployment in rural areas.”

She also worries about the rise of a “guest worker” economy, where “you want to use people as labour but we really don’t want them as citizens,” said Hanson.

“I think that it would be much healthier for the economy if we were building an economy that was trying to find ways where we invite people to work in our resource extraction industry, to see them actually have the opportunity to become citizens, similar to the Yukon Nominee Program.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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