Giving some temporary foreign workers the freedom to quit their jobs but remain in the Canadian workforce would unfairly punish “good employers,” says an industry group representing Alberta hotel and motel owners.

“This would open it up so an employer could bring in a temporary foreign worker at a considerable cost, go through an onerous process, and that worker could leave and move to another employer for no just cause,” said Dave Kaiser, president of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association. 

“Although we support scrutiny and enforcement of rules for employers that may not be living up to all the standards required, we think this would really harm good employers.”

Under the current rules, many foreign workers are tied to the employer that brought them to the country; they are not allowed to work for anyone else.

Under the new proposal from the federal government, however, foreign workers in the low-wage and primary agriculture job streams would be allowed to move freely between jobs, as long as they are in the same occupation classification.

Last month, Ottawa announced a 30-day consultation on the proposed changes, touting them as a means to protect vulnerable workers from abusive employers and promote competitive working conditions. 

Workers’ rights advocates say the changes don’t go far enough to improve working conditions. 

But Kaiser said if the changes are adopted, the industry could no longer rely on a stable workforce, he said. Negligent companies are the exception, not the rule, he said. 

These jobs have been difficult to fill, not only in a good economy, but also in a challenging economy.-Dave Kaiser

In Alberta, the TFW program is currently inaccessible because the unemployment rate is too high. Even so, the tourism industry is concerned about future ramifications of the proposed change, Kaiser said.

Temporary foreign workers, on average, have accounted for less than one per cent of Canadian tourism workers but the roles they fill are essential, Kaiser said.

Employers are contending with a chronic, year-round labour shortage, he said. 

“Most employers aren’t going to apply for a temporary foreign worker until they’ve exhausted all means to hire a Canadian,” Kaiser said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“If someone has lost their job in the oilpatch, what’s the likelihood that they’re going to move to Banff or Jasper and take a job in a housekeeping department? These jobs have been difficult to fill, not only in a good economy, but also in a challenging economy.”  

New rules could make it easier for temporary foreign workers to leave their jobs. We’ll hear from an industry group that argues the new rules go too far. 6:30

Kaiser’s concerns are reiterated in an open letter from the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association to federal employment officials. The association — which represents about 800 hotels, motels, lodges, inns and resorts — describes the changes as unfair and counterproductive. 

In the letter, the association argues that employees should be required to provide at least two months’ notice before leaving a job. And if an employee leaves without cause, the employer should be appropriately compensated, the association says. 

The association is also calling on the federal government to adopt a trusted employer program — a certification for businesses with a proven record.

Kaiser said Ottawa should also reduce the $1,000 cost of a TFW application and increase the minimum length of work permits to two years. 

Workers’ rights advocates, however, say giving some workers increased mobility in the workplace wouldn’t go far enough.

Marco Luciano,  director of the workers’ rights group Migrante Alberta, described the changes as a step in the right direction, but said he still has concerns.

He said that if the changes go through, foreign workers would have difficulty finding suitable new employers who are approved to accept them. 

“Theoretically, it’s good because it would allow workers to move workplaces if they are exploited, or if they have problems with their employer and they can not resolve it,” Luciano said. 

“Under the current system, they cannot go anywhere.” 

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