With Fewer Foreign Workers, Business Are Feeling The Pinch

September 8, 2015 News
 Some businesses are beginning to feel the pinch following the changes to the temporary foreign worker program. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Some businesses are beginning to feel the pinch following the changes to the temporary foreign worker program.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

A year later, McDonald’s owner says predictions about labour shortage are still true

It’s been more than a year since Rob Chiasson said the shortage of low-wage sector workers, and the cuts to the temporary foreign worker program would hurt his and other businesses. The owner of St. Albert’s four McDonald’s franchises is now feeling the pinch.

There are fewer people available to fill day and night shifts, and despite more people on employment insurance, he cannot find enough Canadians to fill the gap left by his former foreign employees.

“The reality is we still are not able to fill the jobs that we have,” he said. “And we still view it as a supply issue.”

In June 2014, the government announced reforms to the temporary foreign worker program in Canada. Under the new rules, by 2016 companies will not be allowed to have more than 10 per cent of their work force comprised of low-wage foreign employees.

The cumulative time workers can stay in Canada was reduced to one year, while the cost for each application was increased to $1,000 from $275. By the end of this year, more than 100,000 foreign workers are expected to have left the country.

Chiasson acknowledges that the program was intended as a short-term solution to Canada’s labour shortage. But then and now he criticizes the lack of an alternative.

“I am not advocating for the temporary foreign worker program. I am saying we need a solution for the shortage,” he said. “Canadians don’t really want to do certain jobs and so that leaves a void and there is nobody to fill that void.”

It’s not for a lack of trying, he added. The restaurant is trying to recruit people through weekly and monthly hiring days, job postings and newspaper ads.

But money is part of the problem. The restaurant offers inexperienced workers pay slightly above minimum wage, and those with previous experience start at around $13 an hour. But they cannot pay someone $23 an hour to work in the kitchen. That’s why many people now on unemployment insurance will still not work for him, he says.

“A pipefitter that gets laid off in Fort McMurray is not going to come and work at McDonald’s. Of course, part of it is the pay,” he says but adds that other factors contribute to the problem, such as a lack of bus service between Edmonton and St. Albert during evening and weekend hours.

Chiasson is not alone. Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber says he heard from several businesses in the city that now suffer because their temporary foreign worker force is leaving the country and no one replaces them.

“They will tell you that it has gotten worse and I don’t think there will be any improvement until well after the federal election,” he says.

Rathgeber says changes to the program were announced after some restaurants were found exploiting their foreign workers. But he thinks it’s also a political issue, with the government trying to garner votes in southern Ontario where unemployment numbers are high and the program is “terribly unpopular.”

He expects restrictions on the program will be loosened should the Conservatives win another election but he does not think the program will ever be as accessible again. He also agrees that hopes of the economic downturn attracting more Canadian workers to low-wage sector jobs were misguided.

“That was optimistic and ill-founded because an individual who is working in the oil patch at $50 to $60 an hour will make more money on employment insurance than they were making in the fast food industry,” he says.

Chiasson is now scheduling work hours for the coming months. The summer was still good because students were available to fill the busy daytime shifts. Now he will have to get by with fewer people. At some point, he fears customer service will suffer, which will result in a drop off in business.

“Some of my workers have left and I operate with half the temporary foreign workers I had last year. I am unable to fill shifts,” he says. “Has the consumer felt it? I hope not. But I think it will be inevitable.”

Source: stalbertgazette.com