Provincial and territorial labour ministers were united today in their assessment that the federal government's Canada Job Grant program will actually make it more difficult for low-skilled Canadians to find work.
The labour ministers, who met in Toronto, called on the federal Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney to reconsider Ottawa's approach.
The provinces want Ottawa to reconsider proposed changes to the way the provinces provide skills training to Canadians looking for work, particularly low-skill workers such as youth, Aboriginals, persons with disabilities, social assistance recipients, recent immigrants, older workers and long-term unemployed Canadians.
"Funding for some of those programs would certainly be at risk, and that's why we are collectively concerned about a unilateral decision for example to simply change the program," Shirley Bond, the B.C. minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, told reporters after the meeting.
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"We want to ensure that those who require extra assistance, and the kinds of training programs that we've had in place continue," Bond said.
The labour ministers also called on Kenney to meet with them as soon as possible to discuss their concerns as outlined in a report issued today titled Building Skills Together.
In the report, the labour ministers said the Canada Job Grant is a "one-size-fits-all program." They also outlined the following concerns:
- The federal government has provided no evidence that the proposed changes will help workers or employers.
- The new program would take away $600 million per year from programs for low-skilled workers.
- The proposal lacks flexibility and would limit the provinces and territories to respond to varying labour market needs.
So far, their concerns did not appear to sway the federal minister in their favour.
In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Kenney said that the minister, "looks forward to meeting with provincial and territorial colleagues this fall to discuss important labour market issues and to move forward with timely implementation of the Canada Job Grant."
The federal plan will go into effect in April 2014 after being announced in the budget in March.
Tuesday's meeting was led by B.C.'s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond, along with New Brunswick's Danny Soucy who, until last week's cabinet shuffle in the province, was the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour.
Clark, Alward to meet next week
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark will be meeting with New Brunswick Premier David Alward next Wednesday in Toronto to discuss the report issued by the labour ministers today.
The two will also co-chair a roundtable meeting with community and business leaders to identify the best strategies to address the skills pressures that are building across Canada.
Clark and Alward were tasked by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, as the chair of the Council of the Federation, with studying the $900-million federal program and reporting back to the Premiers in the fall.
At their summer meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in July, premiers and territorial leaders presented a united front against the new federal jobs training program, which replaces current labour market agreements between Ottawa and the province that provide federal job-training funds.
At the time Wynne said the program is "not going to work the way it is." Clark did not mince her words either saying this summer that the new federal minister of employment and social development needed "to fix it."
The Canada Job Grant program is intended to provide skills training for up to 130,000 Canadians looking for jobs by offering a grant of up to $15,000 to employers to train each employee.
The cost of training each worker would be shared equally between Ottawa, the province or territory, and the employer.
The provinces currently get $500 million per year from the federal government under Labour Market Agreements that are set to expire next year.
The new program would cut into those transfers, something the provinces have denounced as another way the federal government is intruding into provincial jurisdiction.
Temporary Foreign Worker Program
Two weeks ago, federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch met with her provincial and territorial counterparts in Saskatoon for the first time since being appointed to the new post.
The meeting came less than six weeks after changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program came into effect on July 31.
The changes put the onus on the employers to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker over a Canadian employee.
Several provinces complained that the federal government isn't sharing the data behind the program making it difficult for them to know who the temporary foreign workers are or what employers they are working for.
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In an interview with CBC News, Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi said "we need to know who the employers are, who the employees are, where they are working so we have an opportunity to apply our health and safety, and employment rights legislation in a pro-active fashion."
"Both those legislation apply to temporary foreign workers and we want to make sure that the law is being abided by and that the health and safety of those workers, and employment rights of those workers are also protected."
Naqvi said other provinces also backed Ontario's push for more information.
"Provinces like Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan also want this information," Ontario's labour minister said.
While there was no firm commitment on the part of Leitch, Naqvi described the meeting as "amicable" saying the federal labour minister was "open" to further changes and showed a "willingness" to look into the matter.
Naqvi said while Ontario's complaints are not new, he wants to give the new minister some time before following up with her but he will not wait until next year's meeting for an update.
"I'll be following up sooner rather than later," Naqvi said.
"By working closely together on shared issues, we can ensure that Canada remains competitive on a domestic and global scale as we address the reality of the modern workforce," Leitch said in a written news release after the meeting.
The meeting also focused on co-operation agreements, pension reform, and the Wage Earner Protection Program which Ontario would like to see the federal government amend.
The annual meeting was co-hosted by Don Morgan, the minister of labour relations and workplace safety for Saskatchewan.