The federal government has removed restrictions on the number of temporary foreign workers seasonal employers can hire in 2016.
The previous Conservative government had placed a cap on the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers employers could hire. The current cap is 20 per cent of an employer's workforce, dropping to 10 per cent on July 1, 2016.
But last month the new Liberal government provided an exemption to the cap for all seasonal industries which employ workers for a maximum of 180 days. Those employers still have to undergo a labour market assessment for each position to confirm the job cannot be filled locally, but for 2016 there's no limit to the number of foreign workers they can bring in under the program.
"We've heard from groups across Canada that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program needs to change, including from businesses. A small number of businesses in certain sectors tell us they need more flexibility to meet their workforce needs," said a written statement from Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk.
"In February, we granted a one-time extension to help these businesses meet their workforce needs, just as the previous government did: and we will finally address the underlying issues."
Atlantic seafood processors were lobbying government to allow them to hire more foreign workers. Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, said a deal was reached at the end of last month after the Maritime Seafood Coalition met with officials in Ottawa.
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"What the government wants and what the industry wants is the same thing, that we always hire local. There's never been any worker in Prince Edward Island at our seafood process plant facilities that has been displaced by a temporary foreign worker. It's always just been a compliment of a labour force that's been able to add to help us through peak times," said King.
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, chair of the House of Commons finance committee, said the committee had recommended government ease restrictions on the seafood and livestock processing industries. He said government will have to watch closely to make sure the blanket exemption for seasonal industries doesn't push down wages for Canadians.
"We'll have to be on our toes to ensure that the labour market reviews are done appropriately, and to ensure that local labour is not impacted," he said.
Restaurant industry disappointed by 'double standard'
The chair of Restaurants Canada is disappointed restrictions will still apply to some industries including their own.
"The concessions were made for some industries and not others. There are still a lot of people across the country in the food service industry that are having difficulty finding people to operate their businesses — and it would appear that this is almost a double standard," said Bill Allen.
"We're disappointed we were not invited to the table when these repeals were being done and when these concessions were being made."
Allen said his group will continue to lobby for changes to the current restrictions the restaurant industry faces.
Easter said government will review the temporary foreign worker program next year. He said caps on the number of workers should be in place, but the size of those caps needs to be determined on an industry-by-industry basis.