More work needs to be done to recruit local: PA Chamber CEO

By Nigel Maxwell
May 2, 2013 - 6:29am Updated: May 2, 2013 - 12:55pm

It could soon get tougher for some Prince Albert businesses to fill job vacancies.

The Harper government is reversing changes it made last year to the temporary foreign workers program. Among them is the ability by some companies to fast-track the hiring of workers from outside Canada.

"There are some scenarios where foreign workers could be seen to be displacing local employment. I think that every region needs to maximize efforts to recruit locally first," said Merle Lacert, CEO of the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce.

He said his biggest concern is potential effect on small business, since there are a number of businesses in the city that have taken advantage of the foreign worker recruitment program. Staffing shortages, and a lack of interest of interest locally, have forced employers to look elsewhere.

"Immigration is very important to our labour force, but it doesn't mean it should always be the first step pursued," said Lacert.

For example, Lacert said there is a lot of local labour available. He added that the challenge the government faces going forward is training for skilled labour.

The government's program sparked public criticism when two companies were found to have used the program to pay foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than Canadians.

A Prince Albert business owner, who did not wish to be identified, said he pays his foreign employees 15 per cent more than the average wage. He also said it costs him more to bring in workers from overseas because he is responsible for paying for their flight, as well as finding them a place to live.

But he said he had no choice when no one locally was applying for the jobs to be filled, and the business suffered when there were staffing shortages.

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