New temporary foreign worker penalties concern some P.E.I. businesses

Stiff new penalties for those who abuse the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program are a concern for some in P.E.I.

Hefty penalties for abusers of the federal program come into effect Dec. 1

Katsue Masuda with P.E.I. Select Tours says it is very difficult to find employees who speak Japanese. (CBC)

Stiff new penalties for those who abuse the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program are a concern for some in P.E.I.       

The changes were announced by the federal government last week. The strictest penalties include a lifetime ban from the program and fines of up to $100,000 for each violation and up to one million dollars a year.

Changes to the appeal process will allow employers 30 days to respond to an investigation, but after that the dispute would have to go to court.

That will hurt small business, says Erin McGrath-Gaudet, P.E.I. director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"For a small business owner to go to that length and to that cost is serious," said McGrath-Gaudet.

"So we would like to see government institute a more informal appeals process or an administrative appeals process internally before going to that level of needing to go to the court system."

P.E.I. businesses are still struggling to find workers after other recent changes to the program, including a stipulation that temporary foreign workers could only make up 30 per cent of total staff  Also, many temporary workers who had worked in Canada since April 1, 2011 saw their visas expire earlier this year.

P.E.I. Select Tours offers Japanese tour guides throughout the Maritimes, but operations manager Katsue Masuda says it has struggled with convincing Service Canada it can't always hire Canadians.

New penalties start Dec. 1

"It`s hard to find Japanese personnel or someone who can speak Japanese even Canadian. It is really hard to find. Also a tour guide is not only the language but the personality and the knowledge," she said.

Masuda says the government needs to exempt tour operators. This year, she was still waiting on visa approval for staff after the tour season started.

"Always new guides, it looks like it's an inexperienced guide all the time it may lose our trust to all of the travel agents," she said.

"Word of mouth will go through and then it's 'P.E.I.'s not a great place to visit,' it's not really good for P.E.I. tourism."

Even plants that had workers at the beginning of the season struggled to keep them, says Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.

He says he wants more from government.

"It's just frustrating when their next play is to put penalties in place and things like that as opposed to sitting down and trying to find a reasonable way through this for the short and long term."

The new penalties come into effect Dec. 1st.


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