Local business owners and management upset with the federal government’s moratorium on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in the service industry met with Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Maureen Kubinec last week.
“It was a good meeting,” Kubinec said.
“They are very, very concerned with the effects of the temporary foreign worker program moratorium that was put on. It’s going to affect them very negatively.”
The May 2 face-to-face meeting in Westlock was a chance for businesses to voice their concerns with the federal government’s move, and ask for assistance lobbying for the moratorium to be lifted.
Kubinec said as luck would have it, she’s scheduled to have a question in question period this week, and had already planned to base that question on the moratorium and what the provincial government intends to do to help businesses that are affected by not being able to bring in new TFWs.
Sobeys owner Tom Vesely attended the meeting, and was blunt in his assessment of the federal government’s decision.
“My concern as a local business owner, along with other business owners in the town here, is the government’s decision to suspend the temporary foreign workers in the service sector is a knee-jerk reaction and it’s going to cripple our businesses,” he said.
Since it was only a handful of places that were abusing the TFWP, he said the proper course of action would have been to address the rule-breakers on a one-on-one basis, and effectively leave the compliant businesses alone.
Instead, Vesely said he feels the federal government “jumped ahead of doing some proper research.” He noted there are close to 170 foreign workers currently in Westlock.
“There’s a shortage of labour in this province,” he added.
“We do not have enough workers in the Alberta marketplace right now to sustain that growth, and I hope they have the foresight to see it.”
As for what Kubinec and the rest of the provincial government can do to help remedy the situation, he’s not completely sure, but has hope.
“I’m cautiously optimistic the Alberta government can do something,” he said. “I think it’s important for all of Alberta, not just us, but the entire province.”
Kubinec said other businesses at the meeting echoed Vesely’s concerns, and also raised the possibility that the way business is done in Westlock could change if the moratorium stays in place for a long time.
“It can also adversely affect the local staff, the people who work, because right now there’s not so much pressure on them to be working long, long hours and more days than they perhaps want,” she said.
Mayor Ralph Leriger, who was invited to attend the meeting, reiterated Kubinec’s concerns about the potential changes to the Westlock marketplace.
“These folks are in significant need of having temporary foreign workers and in fact losing them might cause them to have to adjust their schedules accordingly — not having enough workers might cause concerns on how many shifts you can operate and how many hours you can stay open,” he said.
Leriger acknowledged all the province can do in this case is lobby on behalf businesses, since the TFWP is a federal initiative.
He added the program has proven successful in Westlock, and has not run into the kinds of complaints it has in other parts of the country.
“I haven’t had one concern raised to me that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs from Canadians,” he said. “In fact quite the opposite. I think Westlock seems to me could be a good example of how the program works very well.”
There is a large Filipino population in town that is active in the community and eager to volunteer and help out, he added.
“From my perspective as mayor I’m looking for ways to make sure these workers feel very welcome and part of our community,” Leriger said.
Vesely added he’s aware the Filipino population has approached the town about volunteering because they feel they should give back to the community that has given so much to them.
“It’s not like they’re huddling in a little foxhole all by themselves,” he said.
“They want to get out, they want to contribute, they want to be part of our community.”