The Yukon’s stand-alone temporary foreign worker program is on its way out the door.
The one-year pilot project, which launched on August 1, 2013, will not be renewed by the federal government.
The stand-alone program differs from the national temporary foreign worker program and also the Yukon Nominee Program. Its mandate was to bring short-term workers into the territory for no longer than 12 months. The nominee program is for foreign workers seeking permanent residency. Each of the programs are federal but administered by the Yukon government.
The stand-alone program was launched to combat labour needs in the tourism and hospitality, oil and gas, mineral exploration and mining sectors. Employers were not able to extend their offers to temporary foreign workers until jobs had been advertised to Canadians for four weeks.
Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, was the first employer to put in an application for the pilot program and brought in one worker to Hair Sensations, a business he owns with his wife. He expressed concern about the scuttling of the pilot project and changes to the federal temporary foreign workers program. At Hair Sensations, seven of the eight employees are foreign workers.
“In Yukon, in the North in general, immigration is a key component to filling vacant jobs,” he said.
“Especially as we move forward into a time when mining activities are going to come back and tourism is going to grow, retail sales and construction and everything else will grow as well. It all works together.”
Karp said he expects that growth to occur in the next two to five years.
But not everyone sees the end of the program as bad news.
“We believe this is a good day for workers in the Yukon,” said Vikki Quocksister, president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.
“Overall the temporary foreign worker program in the Yukon and all of Canada, it creates a slave labour position, in that the workers coming in have no rights and they are tied to their employer. We’re not for it at all.”
Quocksister acknowledged that unlike other Canadian jurisdictions, the Yukon program worked closely with the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board to ensure compliance with the program. Yukon was the first in Canada to take those measures.
Quocksister hopes the workers that have been brought into the territory through the program will be able to switch over to the nominee program and maintains that the temporary foreign worker program “isn’t necessary.”
“I’m still calling for the federal program to be trashed,” she said. “I think we can come up with something better for workers.”
The nominee program, which launched in 2006, has brought about 700 workers into Yukon. The program allows the Yukon government to nominate potential migrants based on economic priorities, labour market conditions, and assess candidates that have a strong likelihood of “successfully establishing themselves in Yukon society.”
The growth of the federal temporary foreign worker program in Yukon has been steady since 2008, when it brought in 234 workers. It peaked in 2011, with 271 temporary workers. That number fell to 256 in 2012, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Last month, the federal government announced nationwide changes to the temporary foreign worker program, which has resulted in backlash from the business community across the country.
The reforms hike processing fees for employers, shorten work contracts and also place a cap on the percentage of immigrant workers a business can employ and the total number of hours they can work.
Despite the protest of the business community, Canada’s labour shortage may be less severe than government statistics indicate, according to the C. D. Howe Institute.
Speaking from Prince Edward Island on Tuesday afternoon, Elaine Taylor said the Yukon government learned the stand-alone program would not be renewed when the announcements concerning the federal program were made.
Taylor is currently attending a meeting with federal, territorial and provincially elected officials in regards to temporary foreign worker program.
She said the territorial government is seeking clarity about what the changes mean for the Yukon but said they won’t affect the nominee program.
The Yukon government can continue to receive applications for the TFWP until the end of the month and all permits already issued will be honoured until their closing date. Taylor said the government had approved 20 applicants so far.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said they made changes to the national program to discourage abuse by employers, particularly in the food services sector, but Taylor said the Yukon government hadn’t received any complaints.
“There were a number of fundamental differences between our own program and the federal program,” she said. “We had on-site monitoring by the Department of Education and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, just to help ensure compliance and prevent program misuse.”
Taylor said they will work with the federal government to create a new arrangement that’s a “better fit.”
“What that looks like, we’re scant on details,” she said.
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