July 30, 2014
MP Allen Working with Trucking Association
on Temporary Foreign Workers Program
Tobique-Mactaquac – In response to a series of issues raised by employees of companies bringing in Temporary Foreign Workers, the Government of Canada announced a series of changes to the program on June 20th.
While Tobique-Mactaquac Member of Parliament Mike Allen feels the issues raised are valid and improvements were needed, the changes have caused concerns for the long-haul trucking industry, which is a major economic engine in his riding.
“While changes to prevent abuse and ensure Canadians are first in line for available jobs are well-intentioned, there have been unintended impacts on the long-haul trucking industry and have created the potential for impacts on all of us as consumers in my view,” said Mr. Allen. “Pretty much everything moves on rubber wheels and we need drivers to keep the wheels turning.”
In a letter to the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Human Resources, the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) expressed reservations about certain changes to the Program which adversely affect the long-haul portion of their businesses.
"What seemed like positive news at the time has turned into a very unfortunate situation," stated Jean-Marc Picard, Executive Director of APTA.
After meeting and discussing the situation with several trucking companies in his riding, MP Allen agrees with the association.
One aspect announced by the Government is that the application and processing of Labour Market Impact Assessments would be essentially streamlined for high wage jobs, which are defined as jobs that pay an hourly rate above the provincial median wage rate. In the case of New Brunswick that wage rate is $17.79. According to the submission by APTA to Minister Kenney, the average salary paid to Canadians and TFWs for long-haul trucking exceeds $50,000 annually which means an hourly rate in excess of the provincial median rate.
The changes as implemented are making the program difficult to access for many employers because of continued use of the National Occupation Code hourly rate that results in long-haul driving being classed as a low-wage job.
"We have always contended that our long-haul drivers are skilled workers and are paid accordingly," said Mr. Picard. "The trouble in the past has been that all drivers have been put into one category which is not reflective of the requirements of long-haul. We thought this would be addressed with proposed changes that said the review of the application would be based on the wage rate paid for the job. Unfortunately, that is not quite the case. The applications are still being reviewed based on the average rate for drivers in a broad National Occupation Code as opposed to separating long haul."
Mr. Picard said that the changes have led to applications for drivers being returned to the companies unprocessed. This is putting pressure on the companies as they cannot reliably fill positions or renew existing work permits.
A review of the Canada Job Bank revealed over 2,700 companies in Canada are looking for qualified truck drivers and a 2013 Conference Board of Canada paper stated that the industry will need between 25,000 and 33,000 drivers by the year 2020.
After discussions with the industry, Mr. Allen believes there are potential solutions. “National Programs do need National guidelines. However, we need to strike a balance between the time to get consensus on National guidelines for calculating the actual wage rate for long-haul drivers, and the immediate need to provide predictable LMIA processing in order for existing permits to be renewed and for new drivers to be recruited when necessary. One way would be for Service Canada to process applications based on the actual wage rate being paid until October 31, 2014. This will allow current applications and renewals to be processed in a timely manner, and provide companies with the time to secure resources to retain and grow their business. In addition, it would also give the department time to complete their work with the industry to address any potential long term impacts on the industry.”
“I am hopeful that the trucking industry’s concerns will be heard by Minister Kenney and that an interim measure can be put in place so that goods can be efficiently moved in and out of the riding,” Mr. Allen said. “The fact is that not enough Canadians are applying for long-haul jobs which often involve travelling stateside. We don’t want to see trucks sitting idle simply because there is no one to drive them.”
“When it comes to trucking and the skills required, we need to look beyond just the unemployment rate as a major factor for a work permit to be approved. While the region may have a high unemployment rate exceeding 10%, I am confident the unemployment rate for qualified class 1 drivers with a clean abstract is a lot less than that,” stated Allen.