Business association urges federal government to expand foreign worker program to address labour shortages

Photo credit: Radio-Canada/Ivanoh Demers


Though the Ontario government ended patron volume restrictions for all remaining indoor public settings on Monday, some establishments will continue to operate at reduced capacity for the foreseeable future. 

For many businesses, however, the choice to continue limiting operations is not necessarily out of an abundance of caution. Rather, it’s due to a lack of staff. 

Per data collected by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) at the end of 2021, over half of businesses around the country (55 per cent) cannot find enough workers to meet their needs. 

Businesses in the social services and hospitality industries continue to be amongst the hardest hit by labour shortages, with staff leaving for other sectors. 

“Small businesses were already reporting labour shortages before the pandemic. The lockdowns and shifts in the labour market brought on by COVID have only exacerbated the situation and made it more difficult for businesses to find staff,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly in a press release Tuesday. “Small businesses will not be able to recover if they cannot find the people they need to get their products and services to market.”

One way to address the labour shortage, according to CFIB, is for the federal government to open up the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program to all jobs in all sectors around the country for a short period of time. 

“A significant temporary boost to the TFW program for all industries and skill levels, together with a pathway to permanent residency for temporary workers, would be a big help to small businesses,” said Kelly. 

Established in 1973, the TFW program allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to fill temporary jobs when qualified Canadians are not available. 

The program is often used, for example, to fill shortages in the agricultural sector in places like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Leamington. 

At present, most employers need to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to hire a foreign worker. The LMIA confirms that there is a need for the worker and that no Canadians or permanent residents are available to do the job.

According to CFIB, expanding the TFW program temporarily to all regions regardless of local employment landscape will “give more options for businesses to stabilize their labour needs while Canada’s economy recovers.”

“Small businesses have been doing all they can to attract workers, including increasing wages, but we need the government to be creative during these unprecedented times to help small businesses with their recovery,” said Senior Vice-President of National Affairs at CFIB Corinne Pohlmann. 

“Adopting policies that better connect job seekers to employers and being flexible and acting quickly to the changing circumstances that business owners face is an important start.”

Job vacancies reached an all-time high in Canada in the third quarter of 2021, with a recorded 912,600 unfilled positions. 

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