British Columbia's NDP government plans to collect the names and jobs of temporary foreign workers in the province for a new registry aimed at providing information to help develop labour-market policy.
According to the Labour Ministry, the province has such data as the overall number of temporary foreign workers, their occupations and employers, but not personal data such as names, who individuals work for, where and when permits expire. The ministry says Manitoba and Saskatchewan collect this information. However, the BC Chamber of Commerce noted that Nova Scotia also collects such data.
The ministry is figuring out the details of how a provincial registry will work. However, Premier John Horgan, who requested the registry in his mandate letter to new Labour Minister Harry Bains, says the province is acting to gather necessary data.
"I think it's important that, for our labour-market development, we need to know where we have shortages and where we need to increase our training opportunities," Mr. Horgan said in an interview, explaining his request to Mr. Bains.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is a federal effort that allows employers to bring in workers from abroad. However, it faced controversy under the former federal Conservative government in light of reports that restaurant and mining jobs had gone to foreign workers when local help was available. In opposition, the NDP had expressed concerns about temporary foreign workers being used in the liquefied natural gas sector.
Mr. Horgan said it's possible that the federal government might take action to help the province, but he does not want to wait for such measures.
"I want to make sure that we have the most up-to-date information possible so that when we're making skills-training decisions on where we're going to put resources and to bring on the skills we need to develop our economy, they're going in the right place."
The BC Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 125 chambers of commerce across the province, says it supports the collection of registry information to drive better provincial decisions, but is wary about British Columbia duplicating data already collected by Ottawa. "My preliminary concern would be, 'Let's not add more red tape and cost,'" Val Litwin, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said in an interview.
Mr. Litwin said his members use temporary foreign workers as a "last resort" to meet their labour needs. He said some "isolated circumstances" have given a bad name to a program the business community supports and left the public wary about it.
Mr. Bains was unavailable for comment but his ministry issued a statement in response to a series of questions from The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Bains said in the statement that the registry will help protect workers in Canada on temporary status and prevent employers from charging illegal fees for employment. He added that his ministry is working on the details.
The ministry statement noted that because the foreign workers program is a federal program, Ottawa has the authority to collect data. However, Mr. Bains will work to create a legislative and regulatory framework to allow for the collection of data.
Asked about British Columbia's plans, Carlene Variyan, of the federal labour department, said in a statement that the federal government takes the well-being of foreign workers seriously. "We will always work collaboratively with our provincial and territorial partners to explore ways to continue to strengthen the TFW program," she wrote.
Ms. Variyan said federal measures on the file have included commitments to increasing the number of on-site compliance inspections of employers of temporary foreign workers, an effort to "prioritize sectors" such as agriculture that rely on "the most vulnerable workers."