Reform EI, not temporary foreign worker program, says business leader

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CFIB president Dan Kelly

Some Atlantic Canadians would rather draw employment insurance than work, which is why the EI system needs more stringent reforms, not the temporary foreign worker program, says the national president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Dan Kelly was in Prince Edward Island Wednesday to meet with P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, and one of the items up for discussion was the controversial TFW reforms announced recently in Ottawa.

Kelly, who lives in Toronto, said small and medium-sized businesses are highly critical of the changes to the temporary foreign worker program, which will limit migrant workers in low-wage jobs and ban them in certain sectors in areas of high unemployment.

Businesses in Atlantic Canada will be especially hurt, because the unemployment rate is high and some workers in this region just don’t want to work, Kelly says.

“It’s hard for hard-working people to understand that there is an element in society that exists in every province that will do just about anything not to work,” he said.

A recent survey of CFIB companies in Atlantic Canada found over 20 per cent of employers said have been asked by an employee to lay them off so they can collect EI.

“That’s pretty shocking,” Kelly said.

“We shouldn’t have systems set up so that employers are pressured to lay off staff even though there’s work there, so that the person can collect employment insurance.”

He echoed statements made this week by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, calling the Ottawa’s EI changes mere ‘tinkering’ and calling for more drastic EI reforms to help address labour shortages in Canada.

“With the effective elimination of the TFW program as an option in Atlantic Canada … unless we’re prepared to make more drastic changes to employment insurance, I think the federal government’s move is really, really stupid,” Kelly said.

The temporary foreign worker program will be the focus of a one-hour debate on Friday in Charlottetown when the country’s labour ministers sit down for the first time with Employment Minister Jason Kenney since the TFW changes were announced last month.

A number of provinces are upset over the changes, including Alberta, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

Island Innovation Minister Allen Roach says he doesn’t like the changes, but remains concerned over the EI reforms as well. He says it’s not as simple as forcing EI claimants to work.

P.E.I.’s labour concerns are complex, as they include mainly seasonal industries competing for workers at the same time of the year. Also the Island is dealing with an aging workforce and a shortage of workers for challenging, labour intensive jobs such as fish processing, which may not be suitable for older workers, Roach said.

“We’d like to see some flexibility,” he said.

“There’s a big difference between rural Canada, rural P.E.I., rural Nova Scotia and Ottawa, the oil fields and big downtown cities.”

He will be supporting a call by P.E.I.’s Seafood Processors Association for an exemption of the Island’s seafood processing sector from the temporary foreign worker program changes, similar to how the agriculture sector has been exempted.

In spite of these concerns being raised by provinces and business groups, the federal government is showing no signs of backing down from its TFW reforms.

A spokeswoman for Kenney’s office, Alexandra Fortier, said the changes will “restore the temporary foreign worker program to its original purpose — as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs.”

Specifically in P.E.I., she pointed to data showing in 2013 alone, employers requested nearly 800 temporary foreign workers while maintaining a high unemployment rate of nearly 12 per cent.

Employers must redouble their efforts to recruit and train Canadians for these jobs, turning to new immigrants and people with disabilities to help fill shortages, Fortier said.

“For employers, including fish processing plants, who truly cannot find Canadians, they will continue to have access to the temporary foreign worker program.  They can have up to 30 per cent of their workforce at a worksite comprised of temporary foreign workers and have three years to transition.”

Organizations: Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island, Ottawa Toronto Nova Scotia Charlottetown Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Mary
    July 18, 2014 - 01:17

    Mr. Kelly seems to be saying that employers are aiding and abetting EI fraud. What employer would 'lay someone off', when there is work to be done?! Mr. Kelly's 'statistics' are self-serving, and, as usual, lack credibility. He should really stop talking. According to him, Canadians are lazy, unreliable, and don't want to work. If that were true, there would have been no public response to the revelations regarding this ill-thought-out program. The public outrage speaks volumes in direct conflict with Kelly's 'opinions'.

  • Robert M.
    July 14, 2014 - 10:29

    I've often wondered whether editorial writers make an effort to critically examine the claims of groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation before deciding that employment insurance is driving the need for temporary foreign workers and "needs an overhaul." According to Statistics Canada's calculation of real unemployment and numbers of EI claimants receiving benefits, at most only 25 per cent of unemployed persons in Canada who are able to work are collecting EI benefits at any given time. (Remember that EI benefits also pay for periods where people are not able to work, through sickness, maternity and parental care benefits.) So EI isn't acting as a disincentive for about 1.2 million unemployed Canadians who don't get these benefits. The anecdotes used by the CTF also need to be questioned. The CTF spokesperson attributes Ganong Chocolates' use of temporary foreign workers as an example of the insidious effect of EI generosity. However, in a 2012 CBC interview, the owner clearly indicated his preference for TFWs: "We found the work ethic to be outstanding," he said. "There is almost no absenteeism." Yes, Ganong was happy with his 20 Romanian workers who can't leave for better jobs and will be sent home if he decides to fire them. No surprise that some employers prefer the indentured servitude of TFW's than a free-market labour market for workers. And those overly generous EI benefits? In 2012-13, the average weekly payment was about $400 before income tax deductions, and the maximum is $514 - slightly more than the minimum wage. Finally, I wonder if the editor was aware the "overhaul" the CTF is calling for is the complete abolition of unemployment insurance and its replacement with individual savings plans?

    • Mary
      July 18, 2014 - 01:22

      The rhetoric spouted by the CFIB, et. al. has been full of praise for TFWs, and has often expressed a preference over Canadians. This latest line of attack is the equivalent of a five year old attempting to have a sibling's privileges removed, because he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "If I can't have my way, neither can they!" Any way you slice it, it is childish and far from the maturity expected from those who claim to have all the answers!

  • AllAboutTheGreen
    July 11, 2014 - 12:18

    Maybe government needs to stop the preferential tax treatment of profits (business income) compared to the tax treatment of wages... after all income is income regardless of the source... so shouldn't it be (profit) business income taxed at the same rate as wage income 15% on the first $43,561 of income 22% on the next $43,562 of income 26% on the next $87,124 of income 29% on income over $135,054

  • Carl
    July 10, 2014 - 20:13

    They do'nt allowed temporary foreign worker! But nothing changes here in banff..holiday visa from australia,new zealand, czecoslovakia etc are influx now taking their jobs..more cheaper salary than tfw(more savings for the employer) but the quality of work is low coz more of them are not serious of their job and they stay and transfer in different company if they are tired cleaning hotel's room, serving food in restaurant etc!

    • Katalin Szabo
      July 13, 2014 - 13:14

      Czecoslovakia doesnt exist from 1992. Czech Republik now

  • Arnot
    July 10, 2014 - 10:59

    Typical comment from the national president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. He also sounds like one of many mis-informed Torontonians. While it may be true about some Canadians NOT JUST MARITIMERS and “It’s hard for hard-working people to understand that there is an element in society that exists in every province that will do just about anything not to work,” You do not attack regular Canadians to solve a problem that is has been largely generated in the past dedcade by certain business sectors and Federally supportive government legislation.

    • ComeFromAway
      July 11, 2014 - 08:12

      If he comes from Toronto, he must be misinformed because only true Islanders know everything and are always correct. The EI rules are skewed so Islanders can draw EI after only working 14 weeks and don't have to look for work while on it, plus,fishermen are the only self employed group in Canada that can draw EI. They just need a certain dollar amount of landings to qualify, usually only one weeks landings. No other self employed group in Canada can do that. And you think Torontonians are mis-informed? No, they know exactly what is going on here in the maritimes. Even the PEI government is an abuser of the EI system that is funded by Ontario and the other provnces where you have to work year round, not 14 weeks all your life. Fishermen who have been retired for the last ten years are still drawing EI along with their Old Age Pension.

  • freda
    July 10, 2014 - 10:28

    Over 2000 fishers filed for unemployment insurance last week on PEI. EI needs to change, there is not a shortage of workers on PEI, just an abundance of people that need 14 weeks to draw employment Insurance..we don't need foreign workers, this system need to change!!This entire group of workers are well qualified to work in plants which remain open until December. As a year round employed worker, I never see the gains from my EI premiums that I pay. Do the math, if you pay $900.00 per year in Federal EI premiums, but every year take upwards of $19,000 out of the EI coffers, that's quite a significant return on investment..every year!! What investment adviser can promise you that type of return? The provincial government is equally to blame, so many people on Golf courses and the roads..why is the province here the biggest 14 week employer? The private sector stimulates growth, not the public sector...Mr Roach

  • laurie
    July 10, 2014 - 10:02

    I get so sick of businesses complaining. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a decent job that pays a living wage and provides benefits? Almost impossible. Most businesses are offering part time hours. Some as few as 10 hours or less a week. Those that give you full time hours have you labeled as a part-time worker. Benefits are almost non existent. Many people have serious medical needs requiring medications and being on social programs is the only way to get the live saving medications they need since most employers don't give medical coverage. Oh and lets not forget employers who hire you for 6 months and they fire you and hire new workers so that they don't have to provide benefits. Can you really blame people for give up. Why can't the government crack down on these employers.

    • Rodina Schuurkamp
      July 10, 2014 - 19:28

      I have to agree with you Laurie, these employers pull every trick in the book to cut costs, the fact is they have to pay a living wage to get Canadians simply because the cost of living requires it, nobody can live on minimum wage today if they have rent to pay and if they want food on the table, for all those employers that don't think they should pay more than the minimum wage, they should be made to live on it for a month! The way I see it, if your business can't survive when paying a living wage to your employees, then you deserve to lose your business because you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem, scrap all businesses that use slave labour!!