Western Canada developed a dependence on Temporary Foreign Workers over the last few years because employers simply could not get Canadians to do some jobs.

Meat packers, some agricultural workers, food servers and hotel room attendants, truck drivers, and live-in caregivers have been in short supply here. Until the recent downturn in oil prices, some more technical, high-skilled workers were also difficult to find. The TFW program became a lifesaver for some employers.

Of course, there were employers who hired TFWs without really trying to find Canadians, and there were some cases of abuse of the people who came here to fill jobs. It may also be true that the hiring of TFWs caused wages to remain low. But after the federal government made the drastic changes to the program in 2014, the Canada West Foundation reported that the cure would be worse than the problems it was meant to solve.

The West, especially Alberta, bore the brunt of the changes to the program and it is no great surprise that now we are experiencing some labour shortages again.

A meat packing plant in Brandon has too few meat packers and earlier this year reported that their second shift might be in jeopardy – 800 jobs at risk because the company can’t fill the full complement of workers needed to operate. Farmers in Saskatchewan are having trouble finding the really temporary workers they require to help plant and then harvest some crops. And some fast food restaurants are understaffed compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country.

The new TFW program rules require jobs to be posted for a minimum of four weeks, demand a non-refundable $1,000 fee per application, apply quotas to the number of people an employer is allowed to bring in, and ban the hiring of TFWs in some occupations in areas of higher unemployment.

On the surface, these sound like positive changes. In reality, small employers – especially families requiring live-in caregivers – are facing real hardships in meeting these new rules.

A caregiving dilemma

Here’s a case in point. A few months ago, one family with an aging and ailing father who were unable to find a Canadian caregiver for him, downloaded the required application form.  Their completed application was 59 pages long and they couriered it to the government, hoping to save some time.

They received an email a month later stating that the application was incomplete as they had used an old form.  Apparently, Service Canada had uploaded a new form to its website between the time the family had begunworking on the application and the time they sent it off. They find it frustrating that there doesn’t appear to be much change to the content of what’s asked for between the original application and the current application.

This family is in real need of caregiving, so they are continuing ahead despite these setbacks. Before they could try again to bring in a foreign worker, they had to re-post the position on the Canada Job Bank website, which took a few weeks to go live. Now the family will have to wait an additional four weeks to see if anyone qualified applies before they can submit a new application. If they are approved to bring in a foreign worker this time, theywill then have to contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada to vet the candidate, which can take up to fourmonths.

If all goes well from here, the earliest that a caregiver could be brought to Canada is October, meaning thisfamily has been struggling through the process – and without adequate caregiving – for seven months.

On top of the 60 hours already spent on this process, the family is anticipating spending $6,500 on top of $16 per hour wages to bring in a caregiver. Low-income seniors and middle class families just can’t afford this, but with very few Canadians willing and able to do this work they are left with few alternatives.

For all the problems with the TFW program, and despite the downturn in the economy, a better balance between the rights of Canadian workers and the needs of our employers is needed. Soon.

— By Janet Lane and Farahnaz Bandali