Lots of Sask. firms hiring temporary foreign workers

Premier Brad Wall has responded to information about the growing list of Saskatchewan companies applying to bring in temporary foreign workers.

Premier says he will look into it

The list of Saskatchewan companies applying to bring in temporary foreign workers continues to grow.

Federal documents obtained by CBC News through an Access to Information request show there are now more than 3,000 companies in Saskatchewan that have asked for and received permission to hire foreign workers.

For example, temporary foreign workers have been hired at 430 Saskatchewan restaurants. The program was intended to help employers fill labour shortages in the short term, when there were no qualified Canadians.

However, the list of companies looking for foreign help keeps growing: hotels, construction, mining, retail and farm companies are all telling Ottawa they need outside help.

Larry Hubich, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, says it's hard to believe no Saskatchewan people want these jobs.

"It isn't a proactive immigration policy. It's a cheap labour policy," Hubich said.

"There are over 350,000 people working in this country under temporary foreign worker program visas. And we've got hundreds of thousands of people who are unemployed. Those two don't match up for me."

Critics of the program question why Saskatchewan companies won't pay higher wages.

They say while bringing in cheap foreigners is a fix, it's not an effective one in the long term.

Liquor store worker rehired

Federal documents show Ottawa gave the green light to hire foreign workers at SaskPower, SaskTel and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance.

In some cases, it's foreign employees with specific technology skills. But Stephanie Choma, a spokeswoman at Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming, said a foreigner with a work permit was hired last summer to work in customer service in Regina. 

"In the initial hiring he was hired as a customer service worker in our liquor store, so those are people that stock shelves and help customers and run the tills. And then he actually changed into a different temporary job in our HR department," Choma said.

When the man's work permit expired, he was re-hired under the Temporary Foreign Worker program. It's not clear whether any Canadians were interviewed for that job.

Wages at liquor board stores start at $16 per hour.

Province responds

Premier Brad Wall said foreign workers may help Saskatchewan grow, but government agencies need to make sure they "exhaust every possible avenue" before hiring them.

"We need, and organizations including government need people to carry out these duties," Wall said. "I don't know about the specific numbers that are being asked for."

Wall says he's "looking into" the case of the Regina liquor store clerk who was rehired under the program when his work visa expired.