Good afternoon. As you introduced me, I am the co-founder and coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and also of Migrant Rights Network. Together, we aim to represent all of the self-organized migrant and refugee groups in the country.
Today, on behalf of our groups, we want to make one primary recommendation, and that is that all low-wage temporary foreign workers must be able to come to the country with full, permanent resident status on arrival, with their families.
In addition, we call for permanent residency status for migrant and documented workers already in the country, open or sectoral work permits, and full access to health care, education, national housing standards, recruiter regulation, employment insurance, pensions and the ability for workers to negotiate their own contracts.
I'm going to walk you through the life of an average worker, so you get a sense of what we're talking about.
Most workers, outside of the seasonal agricultural worker program, SAWP, come to the country having paid a recruiter between one and two years' salary, in home country terms, which is anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000. It's important to note that these recruiters are Canadian. This is not a foreign issue.
In order to pay this money, the workers have to take on loans, as do their families, which means that when they arrive, they are already under economic duress. This makes it very difficult for them to assert very basic rights. In many cases, the jobs promised either do not exist, or, if they do, are not as promised. This is why we ask Canada to create model regulations for its provinces that specifically allow for licensing of recruiters and registering of employers, and that hold them jointly and financially liable for all recruiter fees.
Now, all of these workers are on employer-specific permits; that is, they are tied to their employers. Changing jobs requires finding a new employer, who may need to apply for a labour market impact assessment, at a cost of $1,000. Then the workers may need to apply for a work permit. This entire process, from job search to starting the job, can be anywhere between three to six months, or up to a year. During this time, workers are not allowed to work, and generally cannot access employment insurance. With high debts from having to keep two households, temporary foreign workers tied to employers by work permits are essentially indentured. This is a system of indentured servitude.
The seasonal agricultural worker program contract allows employers to defer days off to a more opportune time. We have many farm-worker members across the country who, in peak season, work three straight months without a single day off. The subcontract and the TFW contract are supposed to ensure that workers are paid hourly, but we know that in at least a quarter of all cases, workers are doing piecework. They are being paid on the basis of the baskets of fruits or vegetables they pick. As a result, many workers are making below minimum wage.
In our experience, an average farm worker, at the end of a two-year period, has had $20,000 in unpaid wages stolen from them. For a domestic worker, that's almost $10,000. This is why we insist that migrant workers must have a seat at the table when these contracts are being designed, because as currently imagined, they are essentially exploitative.
Current labour laws, which are largely provincial, exclude agricultural workers from minimum wage, overtime pay and unionization. Domestic workers live in employers' homes. There's no clear start or end time to the work. As a result, our members are sometimes working 10 to 12 hours a day. At other times, they are working only four to five hours a day, but are being paid in a 10- to 12-hour period for only seven hours. When they are working four to five hours, they cannot have their needs met.
Most temporary foreign workers live in employer-provided housing, without privacy, with curfews and unable to control what they eat. Workers in agriculture are housed with pesticides. Domestic workers are sleeping on living-room floors, without having a separate room. I just recently spoke to a domestic worker who told me that her employers only allow her to shower in the gymnasium in their condo. For a week, when there was no water in the gym, she did not shower. This is not an unlikely story. These are common things. This is why we insist on a national housing standard for all employer-provided housing, rather than the disparate system that currently exists.
When workers are injured on their jobs, particularly in agriculture, they face de facto medical repatriation. You are injured here, but you are sent home to die. Therefore, we call for an end to unilateral removal of migrant workers, particularly due to medical repatriation. We call for full universal access to health care, without the three-month wait period.
When workers leave or they're between jobs, they're often unable to get basic employment insurance or pensions. We're calling on Canada to ensure that particularly seasonal agricultural workers and other workers get access to pensions, parental benefits, EI and supports after injuries, even after they have left the country. We need portable benefits, benefits that can travel between countries.
Recently, we've seen a tremendous increase in funding in ESDC and CBSA to do labour enforcement. Let me be perfectly clear: the ESDC is completely incapable, as it's currently designed, to deal with worker rights violations. There are no complaints. There are no forms. There's no training for the officers. We believe that there must be proactive enforcement, but the current system, including what they're doing in B.C., is the wrong direction, and we need to go back to the beginning and start over.
By and large, however, the fundamental issue is permanent resident status on arrival.
After years of organizing, the Liberal government recently announced regulations to create an open work permit for workers facing abuse. What's most important about this is that there's finally an acceptance from the government that temporary immigration and tied work permits create the conditions of risk and abuse. That's great, but we don't need a system where certain workers have to apply for the work permits and then get them after they've been abused. We need just open work permits for everyone.
As it's currently designed, we've identified 13 major gaps in the regulation, and we have not seen the timeline for dealing with them. This includes discretion for officers to decide what is abuse, while they've received no training on labour violations. We insist that this program not be discretionary and that the permits should be minimum one year, be renewable, give access to health care, be processed in an expedited manner, and not include sex workers and seasonal agricultural workers.
The also announced just last Saturday a new caregiver program with sectoral permits and allowing for family members to accompany workers. This is welcome news, provided it is not accompanied by regressive measures. We have a media announcement and no details. We will be watching closely to see the devil in said details, but we call for such permits, sectoral and open work permits, and family reunification, so workers come to the country with their families, and for it to cover all temporary foreign workers, not just caregivers.
An interim program has also been announced for the tens of thousands of workers who were left out by the Conservative government's discriminatory caregiver program launched in 2014.
Superior Weanlings is a hog-farrowing operation located in the Prairie View municipality in the town of Birtle in Manitoba.
The farm has been owned and operated by James Sanders since 1994. In 2016 James sold half the shares to me with an option to buy the remainder when financing can be obtained.
Over time it has become steadily more difficult to find and train staff in agriculture, especially for the hog sector. Young Canadians generally do not want to do this type of work or even live in a rural area removed from larger population centres.
In 2006, we started using the temporary foreign worker program to attract staff. This was a godsend for us. We were able to attract hard-working reliable people, most of whom wanted to live in a rural area.
Although using the program has always been somewhat of a challenge as far as meeting evolving government requirements is concerned, the difficulties have never been as enormous as they are now. If a solution cannot be found, our farm will have to close its doors. This will be a pity. Businesses like ours provide jobs in rural, isolated communities. We buy grain from local farmers as well as many inputs from rural businesses. Our employees, including the temporary foreign workers, pay taxes. If the farm could keep its staff levels where they need to be, we would be more profitable and pay more in corporate taxes. Our temporary foreign workers are young and healthy people and are unlikely to be drawing on Canada's social safety programs.
The biggest complaint we have with the temporary foreign worker program right now is with respect to the role that embassies play in this process. Recently the embassy in Kiev refused to grant a visa to a prospective employee. The reason given was that the officer felt the applicant did not have significant funds. This is both ridiculous and unacceptable. Superior Weanlings has to pay all travel costs from the applicant's country of residence to our place of work. If the employee does not stay for any reason whatsoever, we must pay all travel costs for his return. The rules are quite clear. Is the officer uninformed as to the rules? Are there additional parameters being kept from us? If so, why are we not being told? If we knew what these secret requirements were perhaps we would be able to make efforts to satisfy them.
We do not hire temporary foreign workers in an effort to pay less money than we would have to pay Canadians. We are required by Service Canada to pay the prevailing wage as determined by them. Last year we spent approximately $6,000 for a professional firm to assist us with the paperwork involving foreign worker applications. We used to do this ourselves but it changes so often and has become so much more complex that we had to seek help. We spend over $10,000 on airfare and hotels to bring temporary foreign workers to and from Canada. We have to drive to Winnipeg to pick up workers when they arrive in the country, and a good deal of time is needed to assist them with obtaining necessary documents such as social insurance numbers and Manitoba medical numbers. We also provide housing free of charge.
Recently Service Canada did an audit on one of our temporary workers. The particular person happened to be an exceptionally talented and capable individual. Although the required pay rate by Service Canada was $12.50 per hour, we had increased his pay to $22 per hour over a two-and-a-half-year time frame. We were told this was not allowed. We should have tried to find a Canadian if the job was at this rate, and if we were unable to do so, then we should have applied for a new LMIA.
Because this particular employee was only a week or two short of receiving his permanent resident status, no action was taken in this instance. We now have another employee who we want to promote and pay more. We have had to apply all over again. We cannot understand the logic of this.
When we advertise in Canada, we do not ask for relevant work experience or education. We are willing to train. These are also the parameters approved to hire foreign workers. An IRCC employee recently refused an applicant because he thought she lacked enough relevant experience.
We spend a great deal of time and money to hire these workers. We interview them via Skype, we check their references and we go through all of the hoops required by Service Canada. The time it takes from starting the requirements to the time before the prospective employee arrives is lengthy. It is usually between six months and a year.
For an unnamed officer at an embassy to arbitrarily dismiss the whole effort is just wrong. We understand that they have to make police reports and do other due diligence, but this case is nothing like that.
Service Canada has adopted a very strict regime regarding the housing we provide to temporary foreign workers. Every year the accommodations that we provide for our workers must be inspected by the fire commissioner's office. This requirement was instituted a few years ago.
We understand that a few employers have provided substandard accommodations. The response was heavy-handed and punished the vast majority of employers, who understand that decent housing is an important ingredient to keeping staff satisfied. Service Canada could have created a code of requirement and a set of sanctions, such as fines, for violations.
The fear of random inspections would probably keep unscrupulous employers in line. Instead, each employer must pay $400 every year for every residence. If all rental accommodations in Canada had to face such scrutiny, the backlash would be substantial. We ask to be subject to the same rules and regulations to which other rental accommodations are subject.
Our final complaint is the length of time it takes to respond to an LMIA request.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and standing committee members.
I am a third-generation farmer on our family farm. I'm 42 years old, with an agricultural university education and a young family. I farm with my father, who is 70 years of age and looking to retire. We grow ginseng, tobacco and cash crops on a total of 1,100 acres.
Combined, my father and I own nine farms and lease four others. Annually we employ 20 offshore Mexicans and 68 Canadian workers, plus contract labourers during peak seasons. Our employee hours in a total year rank in the neighbourhood of 73,000 man-hours, and our annual wages are over $1 million.
We rely heavily on SAWP for our main labour force, because it's manual labour and because of the labour shortage in our area. SAWP has been great for us over the years. It has been beneficial, and we've been part of that program for more than 35 years.
Most of our offshore workers are here for up to eight months at a time. Some of them have been working for us for 25-plus years. We pay our offshore employees hourly wages to make sure that they are all making minimum wage per hour. Our bunkhouses are inspected annually and are most times nicer than what most people live in.
We dug into the temporary foreign worker program in 2014 to try to get somebody to help supervise the farms because of the growing paperwork. Since Dad is retiring, I need to spend more time in the office and doing the litigation part, and we need somebody to do my job. I do not have any family coming behind me; my girls are young.
After running job ads for several months with no valid responses, we turned to the temporary foreign worker program to find a suitable candidate. In the spring of 2015, the ServiceOntario office in Simcoe, Ontario told us we would never be able to bring in a temporary foreign worker because we do not qualify and a local labour source should suffice for our operation. While continuing to advertise for a farm supervisor, we received a response from an immigration consultant in Toronto, who helped lead us to hiring Llewellyn.
We first started talking with Llewellyn the fall of 2016. He came for an on-site job interview in the spring of 2017, and in 2018 his work permit was rejected by the High Commission in South Africa after over three months of waiting, for the same reason the other gentleman mentioned: non-sufficient funds to support himself. Well, that doesn't really make sense, because he's coming here to work and has already put forth the money to come to do an on-site interview.
It took another three months to reapply and get his permit, and his family was finally able to get here in the spring in May 2018. The cost for us was over $5,000 in fees, and for Llewellyn it was over $10,000.
Right now, Llewellyn is working on our farm, and his wife works at a local medical centre doing books.
At this time I'd like to turn it over to Llewellyn.
Thank you for this opportunity to be here.
Mr. Chair, of the reasons for my leaving South Africa and accepting this job here, the first is that it was better for my children's education. Where I come from, it's not very good at this moment. The violence against us is not good. In my close family, I had six murders—grandparents, a nephew and three uncles.
As for suggestions, one is the process of the paperwork. Since Ted and I started talking until I got here, it took over two years. I think there must be an easier way.
For example, my friend recently decided to go to New Zealand. He did it himself and it took him three months and he did it all online.
I had to go through the same things as he did—police clearance, medical aids and all that—and mine took over two years.
The other thing is that the work permit is for two years. If it's possible, it should be lengthened it to give us enough time for the permanent residency, because I have been here almost a year now, so I have a year left.
I have three sons. One is 21, one is 19 and one is 16. The oldest one is at home because he can't get a student visa. The other two are in high school and they aren't allowed to work because I am on a worker's permit, so they sit at home. I want to be honest. It's not a good thing for boys to sit at home. Why are they not allowed to work, enough hours but not too much?
I left South Africa for a reason, and I think you can see my reason. I love South Africa, I love the bush and I love everything there, but because of reasons out of my control, we decided to come here, and I brought my whole family with me. I have decided to stay here.
That's why I came out of my own world when I phoned Ted and I told him in 2017, “Listen, before I accept your offer, I am coming to see you on my own cost.” I came here and I spent the week with him on the farm to see how it works. They treated me well and I thought, “Well, that's for me.” I went back home and we sold everything. I have nothing left back at home. My home is here now.
My kids are happy in school. Where I come from, my kids played rugby. Here we play football. Both my youngest boys played on their high school football team—first team, but you call it senior team. My youngest boy was rookie of the year. If they are happy, I am happy and my wife is happy. We are all happy.
Thank you very much.
How did I come to get here?
I saw an ad in the local agricultural magazine in South Africa, a consultant offering jobs in Canada. The owner is also an ex-South African, but he is a Canadian citizen now.
I made an appointment. He goes to South Africa three or four times a year and meets people. I went to see him and gave him my resumé. He said, “Okay”, and he would try to find me a job.
It wasn't that long. He saw Ted's ad and we got connected. Ted and I had a Skype interview and then the paperwork started.
Then they wanted this, and then they wanted that. My wife did most of the paperwork. All I knew at that stage was that I told her, “Listen, this is never going to stop because every other day they want some other papers. What else do they want? They know everything, almost.” The most annoying thing on the program....
Then I came and saw Ted. We went back, so the LMIA started and then the work permit. That was the thing that was the biggest problem. We got rejected, and the reason we got rejected was not valid, because in the program under which I was applying to come to Canada, I did not even give bank statements on my application. That was not required.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today about some key observations on the labour market in Canada.
I would like to use my time to focus largely on issues of labour supply, with a focus on population aging, regional differences and immigration.
Labour supply is influenced by a number of factors, including population aging, immigration, internal migration and trends in the proportion of people in each age group who are either working or looking for work. Since 2008, as the large baby boom cohort has started to leave the labour market, we have seen a gradual but steady decline in the labour force participation rate. In other words, the proportion of the population aged 15 and over, who are either working or looking for work, has been decreasing. In 2008, the participation rate was 68% and by 2018 it had fallen to 65%.
When we project the labour force participation rate in 2036, using a range of assumptions about future immigration levels, fertility rates and age-specific participation rates, we arrive at a number of findings that are relevant to the work of this committee.
First, we find that the number of people working or looking for work, as a proportion of the adult population, will decline, regardless of the assumptions used. In 2017, there were four people in the labour force for each person aged 65-plus not in the labour force. By 2036, we project this ratio to decrease to less than 3:1 at the Canada level and less than 2:1 in some regions, such as in the metropolitan regions of Sudbury and Thunder Bay.
Second, we project that the contribution of immigrants to the labour force will continue to increase. In 2016, one in four members of the labour force was born outside Canada. By 2036, this figure is likely to be one in three.
Third, our projections indicate significant regional differences in the ways that aging, immigration and internal migration will shape Canada's population and economy. For example, metropolitan regions are expected to continue to experience positive growth in the size of their labour force. This is partly as a result of the increased contribution of immigrants. These regions also benefit, in many cases, from internal migration, as young adults are attracted by strong labour markets. In contrast, by 2036, all non-metropolitan regions are projected to experience flat or negative growth in labour force participation.
When we consider how we can measure and evaluate the implications of these long-term projections, three sets of questions come to mind.
First, we must monitor the employment and labour force participation of immigrants. We have a broad range of surveys and data sources at our disposal, including the census and the labour force survey. We are able, for example, to measure various dimensions of the integration of immigrants into the labour market and examine the contribution of immigrants to employment growth.
Second, using our data on job vacancies, we are able to speak to regional variations in the balance between labour supply and demand and their implications for immigration. We are actively engaged with a number of partners, including ESDC, to conduct in-depth analyses of skills mismatches at the regional level.
Third, we are very conscious of the need to shed light not just on the quantity and location of the employment of Canadians, including immigrants, but on the quality and security of that employment.
Since 2008, looking at men aged 25 to 54, the gap between the participation rate of recent immigrants and their Canadian-born counterparts has narrowed. The situation is less clear among immigrant women, where the participation gap has remained constant or closed only slightly, depending on the period of immigration examined.
In recent years, annual employment growth has been driven by increases among landed immigrants. In 2018, employment held steady among those born in Canada while among immigrants, employment grew by 200,000. A substantial portion of this increase was among those who landed in the last five years.
To better understand the important role that immigrants increasingly play in the Canadian labour market, I would like to highlight a few important observations about recent trends in the balance between labour supply and demand and associated questions about skills mismatches.
First, we have seen a clear tightening of labour markets. The unemployment rate has fallen substantially and has reached levels not seen since the 1970s. A corresponding increase has been observed in job vacancies.
Second, we see significant provincial variation in the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies. In British Columbia in the third quarter of 2018, there were just two unemployed people for each job vacancy. Similarly, in Ontario and Quebec there were approximately three. In a number of provinces, by contrast, there were more than five unemployed persons for each vacancy.
We see similar variations at the level of sub-provincial economic regions. That being said, in all regions, even those with the highest rate of unemployment, we see indications that employers are experiencing difficulty finding candidates with the appropriate skills and qualifications to fill some positions.
This is borne out by job vacancy statistics by occupation. In occupations associated with higher levels of education and specialized skills such as health, management and science-related occupations, more than 15% of vacancies take more than 90 days to fill. By contrast, a relatively low proportion of vacancies in sales and service take more than three months to fill.
Finally, I would like to mention quality of employment, which is an area of increasing focus for us at Statistics Canada. As population aging and migration continue to shape the labour force of regions and provinces over the next 20 years, it will be important to consider not just the match between the needs of employers and the skills of workers, but the quality of the resulting employment.
Quality of employment has a number of dimensions including employment security, income security and work-life balance. One dimension of employment security is the extent to which jobs are permanent or temporary. When we look at this through a regional lens, we see that a higher proportion of jobs are temporary in the regions with the highest unemployment rates. This is simply a reminder of the variety of challenges and pressures facing the labour market presently and into the future.
With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my comments. I hope that this brief overview of some aspects of the Canadian labour market has been helpful to the committee, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today about the labour market in Canada.
In my opening remarks, I will speak to the various sources of information available to assess shortages and labour market pressures and some of the analysis and products produced by ESDC, and then offer some brief insights into what we currently understand about labour shortages.
ESDC's mandate includes a focus on a skilled workforce, and an efficient and inclusive labour market in Canada. The department makes significant investments in a robust evidence base to understand the state of the Canadian labour market.
We work closely with Statistics Canada to undertake surveys of individuals and employers, and to collect administrative data from institutions including universities, colleges and polytechnics.
ESDC analyzes data that are used to administer the employment insurance program and the national job bank, for example, to gain insights into the availability of workers and employer demands across the country.
The department also relies on a network of regional economists who work in Service Canada to track and understand local realities from coast to coast to coast. They participate in the development and validation of the labour market information produced by ESDC.
Finally, ESDC provides funding to a range of industry sectors and associations, through the sectoral initiatives program, to produce forecasts and analyses of the specific human resource challenges and issues faced by sectors ranging from construction and mining, to tourism and the aerospace industry.
For example, the work of Buildforce was referenced recently at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities during its study into challenges faced by the construction industry in the Toronto and Hamilton area.
Defining and measuring labour market shortages is complex. In its simplest definition, a labour shortage exists when there are insufficient qualified workers to meet the labour needs of employers at the prevailing wage rates.
Empirical measurement of shortages is also a challenge. No single indicator or methodology exists. While some focus on supply and demand, specifically unemployment and job vacancies, others can consult a broader suite of indicators. The issue is further complicated by the size and diversity of Canada and its labour markets, as well as the dynamic and often transitory nature of shortages.
In support of its mandate and programs, ESDC produces a suite of internal and published analyses and assessments of labour market conditions, which serve different purposes and audiences. They are built from the core data of Statistics Canada, which we just heard a bit about, and use broadly accepted indicators and econometric models that assess and project labour market needs. These analyses vary along some standard dimensions: the level of geographic detail—national, provincial, local; the level of occupational precision; and the time horizon.
For example, ESDC produces short-term employment outlooks for 500 occupations, in 76 regions of the country—almost 35,000 potential data points. These outlooks, or employment prospects, provide a graphic representation of the relative availability of jobs, using a three-star scale for limited, fair and good prospects. This information is updated annually, and posted on the national Job Bank website.
On the other end of the spectrum, 10-year forecasts are produced by the Canadian occupational projection system, COPS, and are used for longer-term planning. They focus on long-term trends in labour supply and demand at the national level for 292 occupations.
These projections are updated every two years and produce estimates of total employment needs, retirements and attrition, new entrants into the labour force from the school system and immigration. The projections identify occupations expected to face labour-shortage or labour-surplus conditions over the next 10 years.
What do the data tell us? COPS has consistently projected higher-skill occupations requiring university education in health and applied sciences fields to be in shortage nationally. However, national findings often obscure regional and local differences.
At the sub-provincial level, the story can be very different depending on which part of the country you are looking at. For instance, picking up on the earlier presentation by Statistics Canada, recent statistics indicate that Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario are experiencing tightening labour markets.
But when you look below the provincial level, the most recent job vacancy statistics show the top 10 economic regions, with the highest growth rate in job vacancies, included seven in Quebec, one in British Columbia, and two in New Brunswick.
In addition to labour shortages, as mentioned by my colleague, there is also increasing discussion about skills shortages or skills mismatches, sometimes characterized as pockets of high unemployment alongside unmet demand in parts of the country. This is an area of increasing interest, and one in which we have somewhat limited information available. Some research and analysis has been undertaken to look at the skills associated with occupations in shortage, but there is more work to be done in this area.
A rough measure of skills, defined as the education and training required for specific jobs, exists within the occupational classification system. Using this classification in combination with those COPS projections indicates that over a 10-year horizon, labour shortages are more likely in occupations that require a higher level of formal education and training.
In other words, occupations that typically provide on-the-job training are forecast to have no labour shortages over that longer horizon at the national level, while occupations that typically require university or college encompass most forecast shortage areas.
In conclusion, ESDC is continuously working with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop and improve its understanding of labour market dynamics. I hope this brief overview has been helpful, and I would be pleased to answer any of your questions.
This is not news to us.
One of the messages I would like to leave for this committee is the notion that we have a range of sources of data, statistics and information insights. Those range from surveys to administrative data to sectors that ESDC funds to produce and to provide us with these results, to the regional economists I mentioned, who are in the field, and who collect and understand daily news about plants opening and shifts shutting down or starting up. There's a full range there.
Part of the challenge, if I may speak to my remarks, that I had in trying to synthesize what we know is that there's so much information. I chose the 10-year longer-term national projections, in part because they were easier and they show trends that also allow for a lot of dynamics in the labour market to play through.
I think what we hear, what you're hearing, what we read about, and what we understand is that with historically low unemployment rates, with tightening labour markets, employers in most parts of the country, in most sectors, are finding it more difficult, more competitive, to find and recruit workers—
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today.
I want to reiterate what the chair indicated in his opening remarks. Some of the things I heard weren't exactly what I'm hearing on the ground in my tours of Canada concerning some industries, particularly—coming from an agricultural background myself—in agricultural areas.
We have great potential in this country for producing many products. Processing them is the shortfall. We're finding we need labour on both sides. We've done a good job of developing export markets for these products, but if we don't get them off our shores, some other country is going to do it.
I'm looking at the sentence in your concluding remarks, Mr. Johnson, “ESDC is continuously working with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop and improve its understanding of labour market dynamics.”
I think there are some gaps here with regard to what we're hearing from witnesses, those who just came here today as well as others who have appeared before the committee before. My colleague, the chair of our committee, outlined this point very well in the comments he made. He called it a rant; I call it a fact-finding exercise. We're short thousands of people in some of these processing industries. That's what they're telling me, and I know my colleagues on the government side know it as well.
How do we fix that?
I had a bunch of questions here that I was going to table, but they really aren't meant for your area. Mr. Chair, I know we're wanting to wrap this up as much as we can, but there still seem to be some unanswered questions that you, I and our colleagues across the way may have. I'm wondering whether at some point we might ask someone back, whether from Services Canada or whoever the people may be to deal with some of the work permit issues we're dealing with.
I just put this forth to you and my fellow committee members. We can deal with it later.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate your having me at the committee and my colleague's letting me share some of the time.
I came prepared to ask a few more question on the temporary foreign worker program.
For example, in the Okanagan valley and the Similkameen valley as well, I had complaints last year that many farmers were unable to have their temporary foreign worker permits processed on a timely basis because of issues, apparently, with the embassy that was meant to process them. This caused millions of dollars in crop damage because they weren't able to pick successfully.
This may not be the right committee or the right group to study this, but I think it's really important that the timeliness...especially given the seasonal agricultural worker program and just its name, “seasonal”. It's very important for us to be able to study this.
One thing in the Okanagan that has also come to my attention is that there are great facilities, such as Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan. I'd therefore ask ask Statistics Canada this question.
One challenge that many of the university professors have brought to me is that it's difficult to access some of your raw data so that they can combine it in a way that's meaningful for dealing with some of the skills and labour shortages specifically in the Okanagan.
I'm not sure whether you're able to pass this on or how you would like to respond to it. Could you speak to it?
Related to this, I see that in the projections there are all sorts of jobs or positions required ranked high-skill.
The flip side of it, what I see on the ground from people whom I would deem to be fairly high-skilled—for example, a specialized chef for a particular restaurant with a particular cuisine—is that often employers complain to me bitterly because they can't find anybody with the specialized skill to work in their restaurant. They can't expand; they sometimes can barely sustain themselves, because their existing chef is retiring and they can't really train anybody, so they need to hire from somewhere.
Well, they cannot. Under our current system, it's very difficult for them. Chefs are deemed not to be high-skill. That's one aspect of it: how we deal with those kinds of situations in which there's a clear need in the labour market, but our current situation does not allow for it?
Second, related to that: with all these high-skill positions, I would also think that caregivers who come to this country, who take care of my children or my loved ones, are the most important people in my life—outside of my children, I would argue—but they are deemed to be low-skilled.
With that low-skill designation come ramifications for immigration purposes. Right now, our immigration pathway is not looking to bring in people with so-called low skills; yet they are some of the most important people in our society.
By the way, these high-skilled workers need these caregivers, especially in light of the fact that we don't have a national child care strategy. If we don't have one, even if these workers come they can't work, because they have nobody to take care of their children.
Can you shed some light for us to get a better grasp of how immigration policy needs to be adjusted to reflect the actual needs in the community in a better way? Is there anything from your departments that can provide us with evidence and statistics we can utilize?
I'm going to take over from where Ms. Kwan left off. I have similar constituents who have similar concerns. I will get to my other questions after.
Regarding a cook or a chef, in a conventional sense, you might think of somebody taking a two-year diploma and coming over here to study. A conventional cook or chef in an Indian or a Chinese-Canadian restaurant probably started cooking at eight years old, learned from their parents or worked with their parents, and is probably one of the best cooks ever.
I have asked the restaurants in my riding in Surrey about this. They have hired cooks and chefs with two-year diplomas from those countries, but they don't work with them. In India or China, if you're a cook with a two-year diploma, you have people working for you. You don't touch the food yourself. You say do that, do that, do that. They don't work in a small, 15- or 20-seat restaurant.
I think there needs to be an adjustment of categories; we can't put both together. That's more of a statement. It's causing a lot of issues where the growth of those restaurants is being hindered.
If you go in my riding on a Friday or Saturday night, you can't get a seat in any of these ethnic restaurants. They are packed. They will have 50 to 80 people outside the doors on a Friday or Saturday night, so I think we need to look at that.
The second issue I have is that you issue an LMIA to a company that shows there's a labour shortage. In my example, I will give you a carpenter who has a door factory in my riding. He sources and then finds a carpenter to come. This may be Immigration, but it means you are communicating with Immigration. They will say the company that he works for has no website. We don't see any website of this carpentry company in India. We didn't see any pictures.
Typically in India, if you're a carpenter, you don't have a web page and you don't have a Facebook page. You're the local carpenter. You make doors. You may do beautiful hand carvings and you may be the best.
How do they prove that? What I'm seeing is that those individuals are getting rejected, but they are the exact type of worker they actually need. They have gone and, in some cases, visited those shops or those places and said that's the exact guy they want.
I think you need to coordinate with StatsCan and Immigration to figure out where there's a shortage and exactly what type, tailored to the jobs that are in demand in those regions. Obviously, I can speak for my region of Surrey.
Do you communicate with Immigration, in that respect?