Temporary foreign workers (TFWs) represent an important resource for employers across Canada and particularly in rural areas, where labour supply is often unpredictable. This is true both for highly-skilled occupations in mining and extractive industries as well as low-skilled occupations in the service industry in small towns. The expansion and encouragement of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) by the federal government over the last 15 years has increased employers’ reliance on TFWs. Labrador reflects this trend, as the region has experienced a boom or bust cycle of economic activity and a subsequent rise in the number of TFWs employed in high and low skilled positions.
In 2014, the federal government reviewed the TFWP and imposed additional restrictions on employers wishing to hire TFWs, including an expanded and more expensive permit application process and a rule that prevents businesses from hiring workers if they are in a location with a regional rate of unemployment of 6% or higher. Newfoundland and Labrador employers were negatively affected by these restrictions, and were often unable to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) under the new regulations. The province experiences a high rate of unemployment relative to the rest of the country and local labour is assumed to be on hand. However, in Labrador this is not the case and employers need access to alternate forms of labour.
This report helps frame these issues in the context of Labrador, and puts recent regulatory proposed changes by the federal government into context for the region. The research project combines employer interviews with statistics around the hiring of temporary foreign workers, where available. Previous studies have focused on interviewing TFWs to understand their experiences, but employer perspectives remain underexplored. This project fills this gap by speaking with employers in the region about the main challenges surrounding employers and the TFWP in Labrador.
The research shows that there is a demonstrated need for TFWs in Labrador. The volatile nature of the resource sector and inappropriate local skill sets makes an effective TFW policy for Labrador essential. Demographic changes are likely to exacerbate need for Labrador appropriate policy. At the same time, any policy needs to recognize the conflict between providing jobs for foreign workers and taking jobs from locals. In Labrador, local labour is available but underutilized. TFW issues need to be seen in the larger context of EI reform and education and skills training for the Canadian labour force as a whole. In the absence of any resolution to these and other complex issues in the short- to medium term, TFWs are likely to be an ongoing requirement in Labrador.
The full report can be found here.