Saskatchewan labour skeptical of temporary foreign workers plan

REGINA -- A pilot program to allow foreign workers to work temporarily in the hospitality industry in Saskatchewan and to potentially receive landed immigrant status has received business support but a skeptical  response from labour.

Tom Mullin, the president of the Saskatchewan Hotel & Hospitality Association, said the program is a good one and he has received numerous inquiries from interested restaurant and hotel owners since the program was unveiled by federal and provincial officials on Tuesday.

But Larry Hubich, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said the federation is worried about the possible exploitation of foreign workers from poor third world countries.

Foreign workers, desperate for a job and desperate to obtain Canadian citizenship, could be in a very vulnerable position if employed by an unscrupulous employer, Hubich said.

The record has not been good in Alberta, where there has more extensive use of foreign temporary workers, Hubich said, adding that the Alberta Federation of Labour has been involved in trying to help foreign workers exploited on the job.

Saskatchewan should put more emphasis on other strategies to address the labour shortage, like bring more aboriginal people into the workforce, Hubich said.

Mullin said the foreign workers will be protected by labour laws and will be entitled to receive the province's minimum wage or potentially even higher salaries.

Employers will have responsibility to ensure that appropriate housing is provided for the temporary workers, Mullin said.

Efforts are being made to involve more aboriginal workers, Mullin said. But the shortage of workers for the hospitality industry makes the importation of foreign workers necessary as well, Mullin said.

The original idea was that the program would primarily be for restaurants and hotels in Regina and Saskatoon, Mullin said.

But there is considerable interest in the program across the province, Mullin said.

"We've been getting calls from a lot of rural operators saying I'm (they) are desperate for help,'' Mullin said, in a telephone interview Thursday.

The program is a good one because it would give foreign workers from third world countries (like Mexico or the Philippines for example) the opportunity to make money on a temporary basis and to potentially seek landed immigrant status after six months work in the hospitality industry, Mullin said.

That would provide both short-term and potentially long-term benefits for the hospitality industry, he said.

Mullin said he anticipates most of the temporary workers would be from third world countries like Mexico or the Philippines and will be employed in restaurant kitchens or in the housekeeping departments of hotels.

Bonnie Morton, of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said that organization support giving immigrants the chance to live and work in Saskatchewan.

But there is concern that foreign workers sometimes have difficulty accessing benefits available to Canadian workers, such as employment insurance benefits, she said.

Foreign workers can also have trouble finding affordable decent housing, Morton said. And the escalation of housing and apartment rental rates in Saskatchewan over the past year makes that concern about affordable housing even more serious, she said.

Temporary foreign workers face some of the same problems, associated with a poverty level standard of living, experienced by Saskatchewan residenta working at low-paying jobs, Morton said.

"We need to make sure that people, when they work, can afford to live,'' Morton said.

Regina Leader-Post, Thurs Aug 14 2008
Byline: Neil Scott

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