Foreign worker controversy harmful to businesses, says Labrador North chamber president

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Editor’s note: On May 5, the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce (LNCC) wrote the following letter to Jason Kenney, federal Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Multiculturalism.

On behalf of the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce (LNCC), this letter is in responses to your government’s decision to suspend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and the devastating effect this decision will have on the business community of Central Labrador.

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, along with other communities in Labrador, is currently experiencing an economic boom due to large-scale projects such as the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project and numerous mining developments.

These projects employ many Canadians from across the country, but because of Labrador’s remoteness, competition with employment in other jurisdictions, and a population that is not growing in pace with the demand for workers, skilled and unskilled labour are in short supply in our region.

In recent years, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been utilized by many local businesses to fill human resource gaps, especially in the service sector. As large-scale developments have and will continue to advance, regional employers have found themselves with no alternative to the TFWP as they receive few, if any, local or Canadian applicants.

As a result, Happy Valley-Goose Bay has seen significant growth in our ethnic population. This has brought with it a welcome sense of diversity and cultural integration throughout the region, which has been positive for both Labrador residents and the foreign workers themselves. 

In fact, most of our foreign workers have become valued and contributing members of our community, and thusly, Canada. These workers have also brought new perspectives and a dedicated work ethic that influences and improves operations and service levels. 

With the suspension of the program, many of our businesses are facing a major crisis.

With simply no Canadian applicants to fill many positions, a number of our businesses are confronted with reduced hours of operation, and in some cases, closure. 

In addition, with employment contracts coming to an end for many of the region’s foreign workers, they will be forced to return to their home countries.

While the LNCC does not condone mistreatment of the employees that participate in the program, it is unfair to penalize every employer because of the few examples portrayed in the media, as most business people participating in the program treat foreign employees fairly and equitably.

We understand the issue is complex, however sweeping program suspensions or further restrictions are not the answer, especially in rural areas with high levels of employment. 

As such, the LNCC is requesting the Government of Canada immediately reverse its decision to suspend the program, proceed to deal appropriately with those that are abusing the program, and continue with the TFWP where it has been an important support for rural economies.

We hope you will consider the perspective and challenges of small and rural business when considering the road ahead for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

— Sterling Peyton is president of the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce

Organizations: Labrador North Chamber of Commerce, TFWP

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Labrador North Central Labrador Falls Canada

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