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Service industry wants help

Labour shortages in the region have members of the business community calling for changes to the temporary foreign workers program.
Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of employment and immigration, meets with business leaders to discuss the labour shortage in the region at Clark’s General Store and Eatery on
Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of employment and immigration, meets with business leaders to discuss the labour shortage in the region at Clark’s General Store and Eatery on Oct. 12.

Labour shortages in the region have members of the business community calling for changes to the temporary foreign workers program.

Around 20 regional business leaders and civic representatives met with Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of employment and immigration, at Clark's General Store and Eatery in Cold Lake to suggest remedies for the region on Oct. 12.

Even with a higher than wanted unemployment rate in Alberta, there are many industries within the province that continue to have a shortage of workers, Lukasuk said after the meeting.

"(Business owners) advertise these jobs throughout the province or the country and there are simply no individuals ready and willing to take those jobs," Lukaszuk. "It's problematic, and Cold Lake is just another example."

During the meeting business owners criticized the one nominee per employer cap through the provincial nominee program (PNP).

"Somehow that cap needs to be drastically increased," said Phil Stewart, owner of A & W in Cold Lake.

Lukaszuk said that the one nominee per business based on the number of employees policy intends to spread the program evenly among employers. However, the minister said he could reach the 5,000 cap within the first two to three months every year, which shows the strong demand for retaining temporary foreign workers.

The program wouldn't be so bad if it offered longer contracts, said Ben Land, owner of the McDonalds in Cold Lake.

With only one-year contracts, the process of renewal starts halfway through the contract. Land said two to three-year contracts would be better.

Temporary foreign workers should be able to bring over spouses and children after six months, said Bonnyville Town Coun. Jim Cheverie. He said the word temporary doesn't fit when workers stay as long as seven years and fill permanent positions.

Lukaszuk said the labour shortage is common around the province and that Alberta's position would be taken to the federal table. The lack of people willing to take service industry jobs puts tremendous strain on a business, to the extent that some businesses are forced to close shop, he said.

Lukaszuk said while the program has been criticized as taking away jobs from Canadians, this "is not the case because Canadians have first dibs on the jobs." Employers must show there are no Canadians willing to take the job by advertising before they can become eligible to apply.

Other groups have criticized the program for driving down wages. The federal government determines the wage that can be offered to a foreign worker.

"It is abundantly obvious that we will be suffering from a shortage of workers from the least skilled to the most skilled for many years to come," Lukaszuk said.