Good afternoon everybody. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting 24 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The Board of Internal Economy requires that the committee adhere to the following health protocols. Please maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from others; wear a non-medical mask, unless you are seated, and preferably wear a mask at all times, including when seated; maintain proper hand hygiene by using the hand sanitizers provided in the committee room; and regularly wash your hands well with soap.
As the chair, I will enforce these measures. I thank all of you for your co-operation.
Today's meeting is webcast and is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021.
I would like to outline a few rules to follow. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You may speak in the official language of your choice. At the bottom of your screen, you may choose to hear floor audio, English or French. With the latest Zoom version, you do not need to select the corresponding language channel before speaking. The raise hand feature is on the main toolbar should you wish to speak.
I would remind all members that all comments should be addressed through the chair. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be muted. The committee clerk and I will maintain the speaking list for all members.
Before we get into today's meeting, I would like to advise you on audio issues in the committee. On April 14, the clerk distributed a letter from the honourable , chair of the Liaison Committee, regarding audio issues in committee.
All committees, including ours, face the issue of witnesses appearing without proper headsets from time to time, which results in audio problems impacting our interpretation service. The committee previously agreed that every witness must have a connection test before appearing as a witness.
I have instructed the clerk to take further measures to reduce the incidents of witnesses appearing without proper headsets. The clerk will report to me before each meeting on witness preparation. The clerk will advise communications to convey the committee's requirements more effectively to all the witnesses. Members may wish to set stricter outcomes for witnesses who do not have proper headsets. I can raise this issue with the committee when we next consider committee business.
Today the committee is resuming the study of the labour market impact assessment under the temporary foreign worker program. We will be hearing from the witnesses.
Before we go to the witnesses, I wish to welcome a new member to this committee, Mr. Maninder Sidhu.
Welcome, Mr. Sidhu. We look forward to working with you.
In our first panel, we will be hearing from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada, represented by Derek Johnstone, special assistant to the national president.
We will be hearing from La Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, represented by Charles Milliard, president and chief executive officer, who is joined by Alexandre Gagnon, vice-president, employment and human capital.
Our third witness will be from L'Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l'immigration, represented by Krishna Gagné, lawyer and vice-president for economic affairs.
I would like to welcome all the witnesses, and thank them for appearing before the committee today. We look forward to hearing from you.
We will start with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada. Mr. Derek Johnstone, you have five minutes for your opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
On behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers, I would like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to share our perspective today and for the work of the committee on this important subject.
Before I put forward some of our thoughts, perhaps it might be a good idea to say a few words about who we are.
The UFCW is the voice of Canada's food workers. We are one of the country's largest unions and we are very proud and privileged to represent more than a quarter of a million hard-working people across Canada. About 80% of our membership works in food-related sectors and, as we like to say, you can find UFCW members everywhere in the food chain, from field to fork. Throughout the pandemic, our members have played a central role in holding the front line by providing the food and other crucial products and services that Canadians need in their day-to-day lives.
With regard to the discussion today, I must say that the UFCW is very concerned about the exponential growth of the temporary foreign worker program in recent years. We strongly recommend a more varied approach to the labour market challenges facing particular industries, and the agri-food sector in particular.
Key to a better way forward is the expansion of federal and provincial nominee programs. At the same time, much more must be done in terms of making sure that Canadians are fully equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the labour market, and government needs to ensure that everyone is treated fairly once they are there.
With that in mind, the UFCW sees the federal government's decision to create an additional 30,000 pathway opportunities for so-called low-skilled migrants as an important step forward. However, we are concerned that this is a one-time offer and that it's more about backfilling immigration targets for the year and less about establishing citizenship pathways as a fundamental element of a reformed temporary foreign worker program.
As we've learned through our experience with the agri-food pilot, a level 4 language requirement is a major barrier to most migrants in the food sector being able to take advantage of PR opportunities. Creating more accessible pathways to citizenship is critical, but so too is the need to develop more inclusive labour markets and more inclusive policy discussions about meeting the labour challenges of core sectors.
Prior to COVID, there were roughly 1.3 million Canadians on social assistance, which represents about 7% of the total labour force. Plus, there were additional millions of Canadians who were either unemployed or underemployed. Yet from 2000 to 2017, the total percentage of Canada's GDP dedicated to active labour market programs shrunk by 77%, going from 0.39% to 0.22%. During that same period, we saw annual migrant worker usage grow by 250%, going from roughly 134,000 to 335,000.
The point is that the approach to sourcing labour has become very passive, and the LMIA process is a good example of this. To access migrants, an employer must post the vacancy to the federal Job Bank. They must also demonstrate two additional recruitment initiatives, one of which could be posting the job on their own website, but there is zero requirement for employers to engage other stakeholders.
With the demise of the federal sector council program, there is no forum in Canada for stakeholders to come together and work towards sector solutions, which is a real shame, because the UFCW, for instance, is very well positioned to help develop engagement and deliver training for a number of NOCs in migrant-reliant sectors. We represent more than 250,000 workers and their families in over 600 communities across the country. Many of our members are underemployed and looking for more standard opportunities. If employers were compelled to work with us on these issues, perhaps through the LMIA process, it could result in better outcomes that benefit, in our case, the agri-food sector as a whole.
In any event, the last thing we want as the food workers union is to see Canada become even more reliant on a temporary, precarious and vulnerable workforce, just like we now have in primary agriculture. To do so would mean less stability and security for some of Canada's most crucial sectors. Plus, if the last—
Madam Chair, members of Parliament, thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you the labour market impact assessments that employers must conduct when hiring temporary foreign workers.
This topic is of great interest to the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, but also to the 50,000 businesses we represent across Quebec.
Please allow me to provide a brief and necessary reminder of Quebec's unique approach to immigration. As you know, selection for permanent immigration falls under Quebec's jurisdiction. Quebec employers therefore have to deal with the duplication of numerous policies and administrative constraints. This situation is denounced by immigrants themselves, as the newspapers have recently reported. It is also denounced by employers, community organizations and immigration specialists. The delays associated with permanent immigration processes are extremely long in Quebec. It takes more than 27 months for an immigrant wishing to settle in Quebec to obtain permanent residence, while it takes six months for an immigrant wishing to settle elsewhere in Canada. This makes no sense.
These delays cause headaches for all Quebec stakeholders. A large majority of immigrants therefore turn to temporary immigration programs, such as the one we are discussing today, in order to settle quickly in Quebec and then benefit from the gateways that are the Certificat de sélection du Québec, or CSQ, and the Programme de l'expérience québécoise, or PEQ. With the exception of temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector, the temporary foreign worker program, or TFWP, is used by immigrants and employers with an eye to permanent immigration. This should be kept in mind in today's discussions.
Quebec employers must have their labour market impact assessments approved by both the provincial and federal governments before hiring a temporary foreign worker. Changes to the program in 2014 have caused a great deal of anxiety for Quebec employers. In addition, at the time these restrictions were imposed, Quebec's working age population was declining, there was a prolonged period of full employment and there were a historic number of job vacancies. It is clear that the TFWP has not kept pace with the labour needs of employers in Quebec and that major relaxations are required. Even though we are in a pandemic period, Quebec has more than 148,000 vacant positions, while only 8,800 temporary workers could be hired in 2020, again outside the agricultural sector.
Today, we want to make five recommendations. I will present them to you quickly.
Recent changes to the Programme de l'expérience québécoise, which paves the way for an application for permanent residence, require immigrants to obtain two years of work experience. This involves systematic renewal of work permits and labour market impact studies. Our first recommendation is that work permit extensions be made upon request, without additional paperwork and without the need for a new study.
In addition, employers using the TFWP are almost always the same. The vast majority have long demonstrated that they favour the local workforce and treat immigrant labour appropriately. Our second recommendation is that a trusted employer program be implemented that would allow regular and exemplary users to be exempt from the requirement to conduct labour market impact assessments.
In addition, the list of occupations eligible for streamlined processing, which is determined by the Quebec government, has grown rapidly recently. It has grown from 37 recognized occupations in 2015 to 221 in 2020. However, we note that these changes are not commensurate with the needs in Quebec. It is therefore essential to expand this list to include semi-skilled and low-skilled occupations for which there is a high demand. This is our third recommendation. These jobs are predominantly in manufacturing or services, and are largely represented among the 148,000 vacancies in Quebec that I mentioned earlier.
It should also be noted that the process in connection with the labour market impact assessment comes with other obligations, including the obligation to submit a transition plan. This requirement may seem legitimate when you look at the initial spirit of the program, but the real transition plan for Quebec employers is to be able to count on these workers in the long term. This requirement seems to us to be superfluous, and it must be reviewed. This is our fourth recommendation.
Finally, we believe that the maximum percentage of temporary foreign workers within a company should be increased to 20% for all employers, as it was in 2015 and 2016. This is our fifth and final recommendation. The problems caused by the 10% limit are widely known. You've heard about them before. The 10% cap imposes undue constraints on employers and limits the growth of many SMEs in Quebec.
As parliamentarians, you have a lot on your plate. However, if we keep in mind the objective of aligning the needs of our businesses and our desire to be a welcoming place, I am convinced that we can make the necessary changes.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Good afternoon. Thank you for giving the Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l'immigration, or AQAADI, the opportunity to comment. We are in the field and we see that businesses have several complaints about the LMIA process. So I'm going to get to the heart of the matter.
We agree with several of the observations presented by Mr. Milliard.
First, the 10% limit on the number of temporary foreign workers that can be hired into low-wage positions does not take into account recruitment challenges. I'm talking about the regions, where I mainly practise. The labour shortage there is as acute for high-wage positions as it is for low-wage positions. This limit is detrimental to businesses, their development and job retention. Businesses are asking that this limit be raised, or even eliminated, at least for the next three years, given the unprecedented crisis that is occurring. One of the complaints from businesses is that they cannot sign new contracts because they rely heavily on foreign labour to fill low-wage positions.
This brings me to my next point, which is the 10% limit under Quebec's streamlined process.
The guidelines for calculating the 10% limit are considered inconsistent by practitioners and businesses. Let me give you an example. A welder earning $23 per hour in Quebec is in a low-wage position. However, under Quebec's streamlined process, an LMIA is required for a high-wage position. These positions do not have to be considered in the calculation of the 10% limit. An unlimited number of workers can be hired in this manner, as these positions are not included in the calculation. However, Service Canada tells us that when hiring a low-wage worker, workers who have been approved under an LMIA for a high-wage position but are currently receiving a low wage must be considered. This creates an inconsistency. As a result, the limit is greatly exceeded, while workers approved under the streamlined process are not required to be counted in the calculation.
Businesses and practitioners are calling for an end to the inclusion of temporary foreign workers in low-wage positions under the streamlined process in the calculation of the 10% limit.
Through Quebec's streamlined process, the government already recognizes that there is a labour shortage for many positions. Since this is recognized, the LMIA requirement should be waived. In this situation, the obligation to conduct an LMIA is superfluous for employers. It creates additional costs and delays when employers need employees now, not a year from now. This is when there is a shortage. This process is becoming a drag on hiring foreign workers.
In addition, the length of employment allowed under LMIAs is sometimes random. For the same position within the same company, it can be two years or three years. We cannot understand the reasoning behind the length of time that is allowed. One can take the same LMIA for the same position and get a different length of employment. So employers are asking for three years for all positions.
In addition, the processing times do not reflect current needs. As I mentioned, the needs are immediate. In many cases, employers must turn down contracts until they have hired workers. The entire LMIA process for foreign workers abroad takes about a year or more. During the pandemic, this process sometimes stretched to 14 or 15 months. These processing times do not reflect the current realities arising from labour shortages.
I also want to propose the creation of a trusted employer program, as Mr. Milliard mentioned earlier—
There are some things that should be implemented with particular urgency, including the trusted employer program. Employers should demonstrate that they are using the program appropriately, that they have had experience with it, and that they are treating temporary foreign workers well.
There should therefore be a program to allow labour market impact studies, or LMIAs, to be suspended regardless of the position within these trusted companies, so that there is no need to require an LMIA.
Limits on the number of temporary immigrants per company should also be higher. If a priority had to be identified, it would be the establishment of such a program.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses, Ms. Gagné, Mr. Milliard, Mr. Johnstone and Mr. Gagnon. We are very grateful to them for being here today as part of our study.
Mr. Milliard and Mr. Gagnon, I want to begin by thanking you for the hard work you do for the 50,000 businesses in the province of Quebec that are counting on you during a very difficult time for them. You answered my first question. I wanted to ask you what can be done concretely to improve the immigration process in Canada.
I thank you very much for the five recommendations that you presented to us to improve the system. I would also like to thank you for talking about the labour shortage in Quebec and the fact that 148,000 positions are currently unfilled. It is important to mention this in the report that we will publish on ways to improve the immigration system. People don't understand the current effects of the labour shortage on businesses in Quebec.
Here are my two questions, Mr. Gagnon and Mr. Milliard. I hope you can answer us in four and a half minutes and give us some examples.
What does this lack of labour, this lack of skilled or semi-skilled workers, mean for entrepreneurs and businesses in Quebec? Can you give us concrete examples of the affected sectors?
I thank the member for his kind words.
Before the pandemic, the lack of labour was the main problem in Quebec. I think it was in Canada as well. That's one thing that the virus hasn't changed, and that remains the sensitive issue that nobody wants to talk about right now.
The lack of manpower will slow down the development of many regions in Quebec, because it means that we won't be able to use all the generous programs offered by the federal and provincial governments. We are talking about digital transformation, innovation and the ability to do more online, and international trade to close the gap between our productivity and that of other countries.
It's the whole fabric of the recovery that is being hurt by this labour shortage. We are having a lot of discussions with the Quebec government right now. In our opinion, the immigration thresholds set in Quebec are not the right ones. Unfortunately, the government is not going in the right direction.
Interesting announcements have been made by the , but entrepreneurs are caught in the crossfire of the political debate, which is not a success factor for the recovery.
I will let Mr. Gagnon continue on this topic, as he is our expert on labour.
Workforce issues are obviously very consuming, particularly in the areas of health and education, which are under provincial jurisdiction. Currently, in the health care community, for every 10 people retiring, only three are available to fill those positions. In this pandemic year, the aging of the population continues. We won't even be able to replace every other employee who retires. That's very unusual.
This is happening not only in education, but also elsewhere, such as in manufacturing. There, too, there are many vacancies. These are positions that are not necessarily considered to require special qualifications or higher education. By the same token, they present additional barriers, in terms of temporary immigration, in terms of filling those positions and attracting those workers.
We were talking about expanding the list of positions leading to streamlined processing, i.e., employment positions exempt from the LMIA. It is critical that manufacturing companies be able to access this workforce. This should be one of your priorities right now.
I would now like to discuss labour mobility.
We have heard representatives of several companies say that, owing to closed work permits, they could not move an employee from one of their branches to another. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have stopped their activities and workers have had to wait to obtain a new work permit. We have seen this in the farming community, but also in other sectors. When there was a shortage of employees in one location, employees from elsewhere who no longer had a job could not go work there.
Should there be more flexibility in terms of work permits? For instance, couldn't work permits be issued by region, especially if the unemployment rate is low there, or by trade, particularly in the case of high-demand trades?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for their presentations.
Mr. Johnstone, I know that UFCW has worked extensively with the migrant workers sector advocating for their rights and addressing many of the concerns that migrant workers are faced with.
With respect to the issue around accessing landed status, the government previously had a program that would bring in permanent resident immigrants to the country for all kinds of skill levels, high, medium, low, the full range. That's now been done away with.
Do you think Canada would benefit from bringing back such a program, particularly to address the issue around the high number of temporary foreign workers that Canada is now relying on?
Absolutely. I think it's fundamental to address a lot of the concerns raised during the conversation so far, but also, as a trade union—and you touched on our work a bit, Ms. Kwan—we of course are focused on helping migrant workers, predominantly in the agricultural sector, to assert their rights as well as they can. Currently under the system, a migrant worker is tied to a single employer. That employer may or may not be a responsible employer. There are many responsible employers in the system, but we know from 30 years of doing this that all you have to do is pick up the Globe and Mail or take your mainstream publication to read about all the irresponsible employers. A migrant worker can either put up with that or go back to their source country, which may not be an option.
One theme that has been covered widely is that there are a lot of crooked recruitment firms that have really made hay with the temporary foreign workers program. As it stands now, we have people coming from places like Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, of course, paying upwards of $10,000 for the opportunity to pick tomatoes in Canada. They get that money from loan-sharks. They get the money from organized crime. They get it where they can, because the fact is it is a life-changing opportunity for folks, and there are a bunch of unscrupulous characters and actors in the mix who capitalize on the desperation of workers, which creates a very vulnerable and precarious population.
The truth is, labour mobility within the system will help to some extent with that, but it won't have a dramatic effect on the situation. The only way that changes is if these folks have status—these folks become permanent residents on track to be Canadians. That's the only way to ameliorate vulnerability and precarity in the sector, or else we'll still hear these stories on a regular basis.
The fact of the matter is—I know that I've heard from my colleagues here a desire to expand the caps in sectors—we know through our experience that when a group of highly vulnerable workers in a sector becomes 20%, 30% or 40% of the sector, it's inevitable that it will have an impact on labour standards in the sector. When you get to the point where there are 60% or 70% vulnerable workers in a sector, as we see in primary agriculture—guess what—you get a labour market ghetto. You get a place where no Canadian in their right mind would want to work. You get a place where health and safety standards are pale in comparison to those in other dangerous sectors. You have a place where the only way people ever get a wage increase in those sectors is that the minimum wage rates increase, and even then we have an increasing phenomenon of people being forced to work on the black market, so God knows how much they're getting paid.
It's a big problem. I certainly sympathize with some of the business interests on the line, but to our labour economists on the phone, I would say if you have a bunch of unemployed workers and a bunch of jobs, there's obviously some sort of distortion taking place in the labour market. With the temporary foreign workers program—hundreds of thousands in Canada—there is no opportunity for equilibrium in the market so it never happens.
To the free marketers out there, I guess an argument could be made that the way these jobs get better is if we allow the market to do its thing, and that will not happen when you have sectors that are becoming reliant on migrants.
I would just start by stating a fact that when the seasonal agricultural worker program was established in Canada in 1966, a decade before the year you mentioned, the grand total of temporary foreign workers in Canada was 256. Now it's upward of 400,000.
The difference was, of course, that for most of our history you could come to this country and build a life. At some point we decided for skills that some people deem as low-skilled, whether it's pulling tomatoes off a vine, clearing tables in a restaurant, being a line cook or a cashier.... There are over a thousand TFWs in Canada who are cashiers. There are over a thousand TFWs who are hair stylists. Thousands are butchers at the industrial and retail levels. These jobs were gateway jobs. They were jobs. You came to Canada. This is where you started and you worked from there, but at some point we decided that the foreign workers were going to do these jobs, and we were not going to give them an opportunity to become citizens. That's what's changed.
To answer your question, they should absolutely have the opportunity to become citizens. Seventy-five per cent of our history was based on that. Canada is a nation of immigrants, as we all know. At some point we have decided that.... It's interesting. These jobs we are talking about are the front-line jobs throughout COVID. The media and politicians are calling the people in these jobs heroes. But when it comes to letting these heroes become Canadians, the answer is no.
You mentioned the exploitation of workers. I've already talked about it, in addition to nation building, growing our GDP, population growth is core to that. If the concern and priority of the federal government is to reduce well-documented worker abuse and exploitation that happens in many instances in the temporary foreign workers program, then permanent immigration must be central to that. There's an opportunity to do that through the federal and provincial nominee programs.
The UFCW was very pleased to see the establishment of a federal nominee program through the agri-food sector. We supported that announcement. We've certainly advocated for a federal nominee program for many years. However, we have been disappointed by the fact that would have long been the standards for immigration to Canada in terms of wooing high-skilled workers have just been transposed on to low-skilled migrants. There has to be some consideration given to the practical reality that there are language challenges for some very hard-working migrants. It's an excellent opportunity to take a more stakeholder-oriented approach to easing folks through their quest to get PR.
In Manitoba, in the meat sector, one of our locals there, UFCW Local 832, has long worked for the provincial government on provincial nominee programs. We offered language training. We worked hand in hand with employers to make sure that migrants had the skills they needed over time to fully integrate into their communities.
We need to have that conversation federally. As I said in my opening statements, we had a forum 10 to 15 years ago which was terminated. That was the federal sector council program. We need to get back to sector approaches at the federal level, which bring together stakeholders, labour, employers, civil society, the government, to work together and combine our efforts to put together policy that is not only going to solve the labour needs of our core sectors but give folks a fighting chance, at every level of the labour market, to realize their dreams in Canada.
That conversation is not taking place. It needs to take place if we're going to seriously reform the program for the better.
We will continue our study of the temporary foreign workers program.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. Thank you for joining us today.
We are joined by Olymel L.P., represented by Louis Banville, vice-president, human resources; and Isabelle Leblond, corporate director, human resources.
Our next witness is the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, represented by Leah Nord, senior director, workforce strategies and inclusive growth.
We are also joined by Restaurants Canada, represented by Lauren van den Berg, executive vice-president, government relations; and Olivier Bourbeau, vice-president, federal and Quebec.
Welcome, all. All the witnesses will have five minutes for their opening remarks.
We will start with Mr. Banville, vice-president, human resources.
I will stay within the five minutes allocated to us and will share that time with my colleague Ms. Leblond.
Olymel thanks the committee for the opportunity to share its concerns in the context of the current labour shortage and to contribute to the government's deliberations.
Olymel is the country's leading pork producer and its leading meat processor. We employ 15,000 workers in Canada, across five provinces: Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan. We are a key player in the vitality and prosperity of our regions.
Over the years, Olymel has continued to improve all its practices to optimize each of its recruitment channels. Despite all of our local and international efforts, we are unable to complement our workforce to support our activities and our growth. The repercussions of the labour shortage are reaching an unprecedented critical level and are being felt in our activities across Canada, but mainly in the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick.
We currently estimate the rate of vacant positions in our plants at 27%, which represents more than 3,700 positions. Those positions are necessary to avoid the downsizing of our company, to make our plants operate at their maximum capacity, to optimize past investments and to successfully carry out future projects. Those 3,700 positions would create an additional payroll of $200 million and an additional investment of $250 million.
I want to point out that the temporary foreign workers employed at Olymel are represented by a union. They have a pension fund and insurance. They have the same work conditions as any Canadian employee; they are entitled to the same treatment and to the same protection. I also want to add that Olymel has a long-term perspective on foreign workers and supports them financially and legally to help them obtain their permanent residence.
One of our sector's major characteristics is that the industry is directly connected to primary agriculture. Animal production is connected to our slaughterhouses. A slowdown in our slaughterhouse activities has major upstream consequences on production. We are closely connected. That special phenomenon must be taken into account when it comes to our facilities' operational capability. Ms. Leblond will come back to this later.
Olymel feels that economic immigration, be it permanent or temporary, is one of the key solutions for meeting our labour needs, especially for positions in the regions that do not require special skills.
Currently, 600 immigrant newcomers are working with us. Nearly 610 employees who arrived through the temporary foreign worker program have been with us since 2018, and we are expecting 600 others over the next year.
I now yield the floor to my colleague Ms. Leblond.
Good afternoon. I am the corporate director of human resources at Olymel.
I actively participate in anything to do with recruitment. I will mainly talk about the temporary foreign worker program, or TFWP. Olymel feels that the TFWP does not make it possible to adequately meet its current workforce needs in the regions. Mr. Banville talked to you earlier about the high number of positions we want to fill.
Our brief submitted yesterday contains more recommendations on a number of issues, and I will not discuss all of them. I will focus today on the two biggest issues—the limit set by the TFWP when it comes to the hiring of temporary foreign workers and their access to permanent residence.
The TFWP arbitrarily set at 10% the percentage of temporary foreign workers we can hire, and that is a major problem for us. We have come up with a recommendation on that limit. Since our slaughterhouse activities are a logical continuation of primary agriculture, as Mr. Banville pointed out, we want the limits to exempt the positions related to primary agriculture listed under the national occupational classification, such as food processing labourers and industrial butchers.
Should our recommendation related to this be rejected, we also propose to increase the limit to 30%, which would apply to the entire company, not only to the workplace. This could be another solution, but we by far prefer the first recommendation I submitted to you.
As for the permanent selection of temporary foreign workers, Olymel applauds the measures adopted by the federal government, whether we are talking about pilot programs or recently announced measures to allow temporary foreign workers doing essential work to apply for permanent residence. However, nearly all of our temporary foreign workers are currently unable to participate in those two programs because of the Canada–Quebec accord.
Quebec recently created a pilot program related to processing—
Thank you, Madam Chair, vice-chairs and committee members.
I am speaking on behalf of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which is the voice of Canadian business. We represent 200,000 businesses across the country, across sectors and across sizes, with our network that includes 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the country, including our colleagues from FCCQ, whom you just heard from.
I'd like to thank them, the panellists before and the panellists with us here today, and the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about the temporary foreign worker program and LMIAs, in particular.
I will start by saying that immigration plays an important role in the inclusive growth and diversity of Canadian workforces and communities. The Canadian Chamber promotes innovative and effective policies and programming to support new Canadians with labour market and community integration.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen rising unemployment rates, and expectations are that the employment rate will not level out and return, at least permanently, to pre-crisis levels any time in the immediate future. However, despite these changes in the labour market, you heard last week from Statistics Canada, for example, that despite those fluctuating employment rates over the past year, throughout the crisis the job vacancy rate has stayed at the same pre-pandemic level. Thus, immigration will continue to play an important role in filling labour market gaps.
Although the Canadian Chamber has a number of recommendations to improve and modernize the temporary foreign worker program, we maintain that this program is a key component to the immigration system. We have also long supported pathways to permanent residency for temporary permit holders.
In regard to labour markets as we start to consider Canada's recovery post-pandemic, the Canadian Chamber believes that labour market analysis will play a critical role for a host of reasons, including immigration levels planning, and we can speak more to this in the Qs and As. We also could support the continued devolution of the immigration selection process and a continuation of moving to local levels of decision-making through the PNPs, the Atlantic immigration program, the expansion of pilots, including the rural and northern immigration pilot, and the promised municipal nominee program. We need local solutions built by communities for communities, with strong involvement from the business community, to effectively address community workforce needs.
With this said, I will now turn my attention to the focus of the committee's review. Heading into today, we canvassed a number of members and some feedback we received includes the following points, which I will note aren't limited to LMIAs, but that a broader commentary is needed to convey the totality of administrative and financial burdens.
First of all, permit processing times have traditionally been very lengthy. You've heard any number of examples of this, which defy the needs, particularly in the sectors that are seasonal in nature.
Second, permit processing adds to the administrative length and burden. Additional factors include needing to establish an account with the Job Bank, getting vacancies posted, requiring a one-month advertising period, and then LMIA processing times, etc.
Also, LMIA processing times have actually decreased through the pandemic, yet many members, especially in the agricultural sector, have said that more proactive communication is needed with stakeholders to help manage the program in light of evolving travel restrictions, border policies, etc.
We also have heard that consistency is needed in Service Canada. For example, there is often confusion between agricultural work permits and those in the low-wage stream.
Finally, our members have also found that a lack of communication and understanding between ministries, departments—namely, ESDC and IRCC—create further delays and administrative burdens.
The Canadian Chamber today has one main recommendation, and that is the development and implementation of a trusted employers program. As for the time I have left, I'll fit in as many considerations as I can.
First of all, such a program streamlines the application process and reduces the administrative burden for governments, businesses and workers. The same businesses often apply over and over again. It removes the need to constantly reassess legitimacy and focuses on the merits of each case and application.
Second, a number of our members, business partner associations and organizations have advocated for this for a number of years. The U.K. and Australia have successful TEP programs that have been implemented for more than a decade. We do have a precedent in Canada somewhat with the global talent stream, which does not require LMIAs.
We recommend starting with a preferred status model like a NEXUS model, with consideration over time to moving towards more of an across-the-board accreditation model.
Restaurants and many small and medium-sized businesses that make up the Canadian food service sector are a critical pillar of our culture, economy and local communities. Before the pandemic struck, our industry comprised over 98,000 establishments from coast to coast to coast, serving about 22 million customers every day and contributing 4% to the country's GDP. Prior to this crisis, the food service sector was Canada's fourth largest employer, directly employing 1.2 million people and was also the number one source of first jobs for young Canadians.
We're also a reflection of Canada's enviable diversity. Women make up 58% of the food service workforce and 31% of restaurant owners, operators and staff belong to a visible minority. Half of all Canadian restaurants are run by talented, hard-working entrepreneurs who came here as immigrants. Immigration was vitally important to our industry before we were hit with COVID-19. This crisis has made the need for reforms all the more critical.
Heading into the pandemic, the restaurant sector was already struggling to fill more than 60,000 vacant positions. One in five Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 are employed in the restaurant sector, but the workforce participation among teens has been steadily declining, unfortunately.
By its nature, food service is very labour intensive. Finding any staff, let alone staff with applicable skills and experience, has become more challenging than ever.
COVID-19 hit and turned an already challenging situation into a full-blown labour crisis for our industry. The food service sector lost more jobs in the first six weeks of the pandemic than the entire Canadian economy lost during the 2008-09 recession. No other industry comes close to this level of shortfall. One out of every five jobs lost during the initial lockdown from March to April 2020 was in Canada's restaurant sector. During this period, more than 800,000 food service workers lost their jobs or had their hours of work reduced to zero.
At a time when all other industries have recovered an average of 90% of their pandemic job losses, the restaurant sector still hasn't recovered half of the jobs it lost, which represents 300,000 fewer jobs in the Canadian food service sector and roughly 50,000 employees who are not currently working any hours.
By the time restaurants across the country are ready to reopen and bring back their staff, many of these workers will have already found employment elsewhere. What began as a shortage of 60,000 restaurant positions before the pandemic could become a substantially higher labour crisis for our industry, which could jeopardize the ability of many restaurants to stay in business.
We are losing our employees because of the closures and reopenings caused by COVID-19. After the first wave, our employees came back to work, but, after the second wave, a number of them had already decided to find a new job in another field. What we are seeing now, with the third wave, is that a growing number of workers are permanently turning to other industries.
Our industry was already seeking 60,000 workers before COVID-19; it is easy to imagine the number of people we will need for the next reopening.
Knowing that the demographic pyramid will escalate that labour problem, we are looking into ways to attract and retain talent in our industry. Immigration is definitely a crucial one. It comes with its share of challenges, but it is worth it, especially since immigrants enrich our industry from their culture to our table.
Persistent labour shortages put a damper on investment and expansion. Even existing businesses are at risk if they can't be properly staffed. The restaurant industry is one of Canada's largest employers, the biggest source of first-time jobs for youth and an important part of every urban and rural community across the country.
We are therefore proposing a comprehensive national labour strategy that includes a food service stream of the temporary foreign worker program, which will be provided to you following this session.
In the interest of time, here are three recommendations for you to remember today:
The first is the fast-track list process for specific jobs, which gets prioritized by provinces, from which Quebec, for instance, made the mistake of taking out four key positions for our industry.
The second one is to reduce the administrative burden of the small business owners who most heavily rely on the program by increasing minimum temporary foreign worker work permits to two years, reducing the $1,000 fee and redefining it as a “per position” fee.
The third is to ensure that successful applicants are included in a form of fast track for immigrant approval.
Finally, as Canada continues to shift—
I don't always give the government credit, but what was recently announced in terms of new pathways to permanent residency will definitely help in that case.
To all our guests today, one of the things that is lacking, and all of you touched on it, is a sector-specific strategy or a labour strategy, in general. The talk is 20,000 applicants for temporary foreign workers in health care. This is the new program for permanent residency. There are 30,000 applicants for temporary workers in other essential occupations and 40,000 applicants for international students.
I see your 90,000, and yet I heard during your speech, Mr. Bourbeau, you're short 50,000 to 60,000 workers right now. If we're looking at immigration of around 400,000 people a year, which is what the government is targeting, you guys would not be opposed to a higher percentage. It seems to me there is less than 25% that could be thought of in terms of the stream.
That's my first question for Restaurants Canada.
Ms. Leblond, you were cut off as well, or you ran out of time to make your final remarks.
Food and Beverage Canada have been here. I'm not sure if you're members of those guys, but you certainly have lots of similarities.
They talked about a shortage of 30,000 workers right now going up to 65,000 by 2025. Certainly, you guys talked about the shortage of workers in your particular industry. My guess is you would certainly support any kind of pathway to permanent residency that targeted a larger percentage of these core skilled workers, entry level or whatever you want to call them.
It was well said by the last group of panellists that not a lot of people who came to Canada may have understood the language to level 4, so we've been getting them into our factories and restaurants, and it gives them a chance to learn the language. There's a whole bunch of benefits there.
Certainly, you guys also have people coming in and working minimum wage jobs. There's a whole level of expertise you can use, and you could train people over time.
Would you like to comment?
That's absolutely what's needed. I said that in our opening remarks.
We have three buckets of recommendations for immigration writ large. One of them is on that devolution of the immigration selection process both to the provincial level and, more importantly, to the community level.
What I would say about the rural and northern immigration pilots—11 of them across the country—is that what was really innovative and interesting about those application processes is that a business community, either a chamber or an EcDev, had to lead that application, so it makes sure, again, that the business community is involved. Labour market integration is among the most important considerations, because that's what sets up our immigrants for success, to be sure.
The other point here, and this is crucial moving forward, folks, is labour market assessment. It's not very attractive or headline-grabbing, but we need to know both by sectors and across communities here what is needed, so the devolution is key.
Sure. I'm happy to jump in. Thank you for the question.
I think that one of the really interesting challenges facing the restaurant and food service industry—both during this current apocalypse, but more importantly in the before times and what we hope will be a strong revival and recovery—is the discrepancy between the multicultural metropolitan cities and the more rural areas. The discrepancy is in the labour force and the labour shortages.
What we're hoping for when we speak about a dedicated food service stream, for example, a temporary foreign worker program, is a formula, a program or an initiative that takes those differences into account. It doesn't matter if the restaurant is in a more rural or a small-town community or a downtown financial core, they still need the same type of skilled, dedicated and passionate people to open their doors, whether it's front of house or back of house.
As Olivier highlighted in his opening statement, we were facing a pretty devastating labour shortage before this COVID-19 crisis. Right now, so many doors are shut across the country and so many operators are struggling to survive, to make ends meet and to keep the lights on. At the end of that tunnel that we're still in we can see the light, but at that light is also the looming labour shortage that we didn't address before this crisis hit.
Sure. I'm happy to comment.
I think one of the interesting pieces coming out of this conversation, again, from before the crisis but also during, is the challenge around taking full advantage of the TFW program. There's an administrative burden involved in even applying. Again, as Olivier mentioned, that burden is financial. It's the high cost of entry for a lot of the operators, particularly those who have been extremely hard hit by this crisis and are facing increasingly frustrating turnaround times and updates.
As I mentioned, without those back-of-house positions that may not be the most glamorous, a restaurant can't open. Once again, when we're struggling to keep those lights on, every option to make the cost of doing business as easy as possible is even more crucial now.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here. This is yet another diverse panel, which helps us gain a clear understanding of the various labour-related challenges that existed pre-pandemic and still exist now, during the pandemic.
I want to pick up on the point Mr. Sidhu made initially, about each region and each occupation type having different challenges.
I would like to hear your views on some of the one-size-fits-all programs the government put in place. The food service and retail sectors come to mind; when the unemployment rate in a region exceeds 6%, the processing of all LMIA applications stops. Right now, the unemployment rate is above 6% across Canada, so I'm interested in hearing your comments on the subject.
What does it mean for you? Despite the high unemployment rate, are your sectors still experiencing a labour shortage?
The process is a significant administrative burden for Olymel. Over the past two and a half years, we have submitted more than 110 LMIA applications and 1,588 certificate applications in Quebec alone. Half of those were renewal applications, so your question is quite relevant, Ms. Normandin.
Yes, work permits should be valid for longer periods, so they are more in line with provincial time frames for obtaining permanent residency. Say, in Quebec, someone is not able to become a permanent resident within two years, their permit should be valid for at least three years. That would give workers time to submit the necessary applications. What's more, we wouldn't have to renew their application or start the process over again, when we know we desperately need workers.
I'd like to answer your previous question, if I may. I was having an issue with my mike. The fact that a region has a high unemployment rate does not mean it has the necessary workers to meet the demand. I completely agree with that. We are based in rural areas, which have small communities. The unemployment rate might well be 7% or 8%, but if there are only 10,000 people living within a 45-kilometre radius, it's not a sizable enough population for us to be able to fill the 300 or 400 vacant jobs we have in a region. Meeting our labour needs depends on more than just the unemployment rate.
One thing, in particular, keeps coming up about the LMIA process. The example we heard involved welders, but the issue applies to a number of occupations. When a company doesn't have enough welders in a given area, it has to submit an LMIA application. It's reasonable to expect that the company next door is having the same problem and is also having to submit an LMIA application. In the end, all businesses across the sector are having to submit LMIA applications, even though there is a known shortage of skilled labour for certain types of jobs.
Should the government consider removing the LMIA requirement for more occupations, or perhaps requiring LMIAs on a regional basis? While this may not be the case during the pandemic, the unemployment rate can be quite low, which, from the outset, is a sign of a widespread labour shortage.
Should the government be more flexible about the LMIA requirement?
Thank you for your question.
The mindset tends to be that the unemployment rate and the number of people looking for work in a given area go hand in hand. Someone brought this up earlier, and I think it's an important point to keep in mind. The problem does not have to be widespread in order for there to be a labour shortage. By widespread, I mean affecting all sectors in all regions at the same time. I'll give you two examples involving two regions that are far apart.
We have a big plant in Red Deer, Alberta, with 1,700 employees. In 2004, when the oil and gas industry was booming, we had to make use of the temporary foreign worker program. Today, that same plant receives plenty of CVs and job applications, so it doesn't need temporary foreign workers. It has enough local workers to meet its labour requirements, and we are very glad about that.
Conversely, in Quebec in 2004, workers were coming to us. Labour was not in short supply there. Today, we already have 500 workers, if I'm not mistaken, and we will soon need another 600.
There will always be Canadians who are looking for a job, but labour requirements vary from one region to another. It's important to take into account the sector—that's a nod to my counterparts in the restaurant industry—the type of job and the region. We want to be smart about using the temporary foreign worker program; it's not a silver bullet. It cannot apply everywhere at the same time in the same way. Regional differences matter. We are quite glad to hire Canadians living in Red Deer whenever we can.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
My question is actually for all three groups, but in the short time I have, I think I'll start with Ms. Nord.
In relation to critiques of the temporary foreign workers program, one of the things we've heard about is the need for employers to be able to access workers more quickly. You may be aware, of course, that Monday's budget dedicates $29 million to maintaining enhanced capacity to serve visitors applying for temporary resident visas and permits. You may be aware that this will help preserve departmental capacity to process documents such as work permits.
Along the same lines, what actions do you think the federal government could be taking, or should take, to further speed up processing and get people filling these vacancies?
I find Ms. Nord's idea really interesting.
For us, it is all about increasing the percentage, because our needs are great. However, for adjustment overall, we're in favour of a regional balance, that is, the percentage should be adjusted based on a study of variations from one region to another. Some places don't need to use temporary foreign workers because Canadians can be hired. I gave the example of Alberta earlier. In other areas, like New Brunswick and Quebec, it's very difficult for us.
In my opinion, 20% is a minimum rate. If we want to manage it intelligently and with respect for Canadians seeking work, we need to adjust it to the various labour situations across Canada.