Waitresses urge: Fix the foreign worker program

By Sabrina Kraft / Weyburn Review
May 21, 2014 01:00 AM

Shauna Jennison-Yung and Sandy Nelson had the opportunity to share their story, and address some issues with the Temporary Foreign Workers program with MPs during the Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Both Jennison-Yung and Nelson were waitresses at the Brothers Classic Bar and Grill, and before that the El Rancho Restaurant. The federal ministry of Employment is investigating a claim by the two former long-time waitresses, after they claimed they were replaced by temporary foreign workers.

During their time in Ottawa on Thursday, Shauna and Sandy had many opportunities to speak with Members of Parliament, before addressing their situation.

"We arrived in Ottawa right in time to have lunch with New Democrat Party MPs Nathan Cullen and Jinny Sims at the Parliamentary restaurant," said Jennison-Yung. "Then we had an interview with Evan Solomon from CBC for their Powers and Politics session, right outside the House of Commons."

During the Question Period of the House of Commons, both Shauna and Sandy presented a brief of what happened to them, and explained that they hope to get the Temporary Foreign Workers program properly fixed. They also want to see an investigation into their claims by the department for Employment minister Jason Kenney.

"There were many questions about our situation during our time at the House of Commons," said Sandy. "There were also side witnesses at the table, some who were related to the program in various ways."

Despite meeting with a few MPs, including NDP federal leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal MP for Regina Ralph Goodale, Shauna and Sandy were disappointed that they never had a chance to speak with Kenney, or his people in the department for Employment.

"You think that they would want to talk to everyone who is involved in the situation," said Shauna. Overall, she still felt that they were talking to a lot of good people, and that was one of the reasons they had gone to Ottawa.

Their main goal right now is to get positive changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, since there are many problems with the program right across the country.

"Canadians aren't happy, and it just isn't Canadian workers who are being affected, but there are also foreign workers who are starting to share their stories of not being paid correctly," said Shauna.

"There is no doubt in our mind that temporary foreign workers are needed, but it is the program that is broken. The government has to be willing to impose fines on businesses who break the rules so that people start to think about the consequences," said Shauna.

"There also needs to be a way for Canadians to contact the government if they feel that they replaced by temporary foreign workers," said Sandy. She noted that it was quite difficult for herself and Shauna to get noticed by the government, until the story broke in the media.

"There are employers who are following the guidelines, but we just want to focus on those employers who are at fault for abusing the system," added Sandy. "As long as there continue to be problems within the program, it will continue to be an issue for Canadians, and for foreign workers who come here to work."

Ralph Goodale, MP for Wascana, took the opportunity to sit with both Shauna and Sandy in the gallery, right before their presentation in Question Period.

"They were obviously knowledgable about this program, and really it was their story that made the issue a national story."

Goodale felt that it will be because of Shauna and Sandy, and other vocal people who are demanding change, that important changes will be made to the national policy for the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

"The program was designed very carefully in the early 1970s, and it worked very successfully for a number of years," said Goodale. "But the evidence is accumulating, with some cases reporting that foreign workers are replacing Canadian employees, some cases driving down the wages, and some cases are showing abuse of the foreign workers by not paying them minimum wage or other complaints."

"The volume of requests for temporary foreign workers has shot up dramatically in the last few years," said Goodale. "There is clearly a need, but we need to take a close look at if those needs are because of a market shortage, or because of a skill shortage."

According to Goodale, many of the complaints and issues for the Temporary Foreign Workers program has been allowed to run amok. "These problems needs to be corrected. Both employees and employers must be treated properly, and know the guidelines for this program."

Goodale expressed his concern that there was no attempt by Kenney, or his staff, to talk to either Shauna or Sandy, or other victims who have come forward in the recent weeks. "This shows some real ineptitude by the Conservative government, and I am quite skeptical that some of the issues will be addressed."

"The program is such a mess, and we need to design it so that it appropriately meets the needs of employers, without it being abused," said Goodale.

There is currently a moratorium on the service sector access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, while the government works on reforming the federal program.

Just released on Friday, Ottawa was considering a further crackdown on its embattled temporary foreign worker program that could result in higher fees for companies hoping to hire foreign help and an elimination of the practice altogether in areas of high unemployment.

The government presented various options on how to fix the troubled program during a closed-door meeting Thursday with stakeholders who included business representatives and labour union officials.

Canadian companies are currently charged $275 to apply to hire temporary foreign workers. In the U.S., employers can pay as much as $2,300 to access the American program.

However, Goodale said that more immediate steps are necessary. "We are calling for the Auditor General to undertake an immediate audit of the program, and completely review it from top to bottom. We want to get all the facts and figures on the table so that there is more transparency for the program."

According to statistics provided by the Liberal party to the auditor general, at the end of 2007 there were approximately 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada. During the 2008-2009 recession, when hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers lost their jobs, this number rose dramatically. By the end of 2012 there were roughly 490,000 TFWs employed, an increase of 63 per cent.

© Copyright 2014 Weyburn Review

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