More than 100 bilingual government jobs are now vacant at just two federal departments in Newfoundland and Labrador, with members of an organization hired to help fill the positions blaming a recent wave of retirements in the public service.
Horizon TNL, a group that helps link bilingual workers with employers, said since the beginning of 2021, three federal departments have sought its help filling 84 bilingual jobs. Four provincial government ministries also hired the group to help find 13 bilingual workers.
"One department was looking for 75 bilingual workers in Newfoundland four or five months ago," said Régis Guyot, an employment and immigration counselor at Horizon TNL. "You have some departments where 30 per cent of the employees retired and haven't been replaced by the feds. There's really a need, an urgent need.… There's way more demand than three years ago, that's clear. It's very visible."
Several federal government agencies employ dozens of bilingual workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, including the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
In a statement to Radio-Canada, ESDC spokesperson Natalie Huneault said the department is currently trying to fill 83 vacant bilingual positions in the province. She said 42 employees based in the province have retired since the beginning of the pandemic.
"Bilingual positions are available in several areas, and the region is actively recruiting bilingual employees to continue offering excellent customer service," she said.
CRA spokesperson Jeffrey Lansing also said 21 of agency's 198 permanent bilingual positions based in Newfoundland and Labrador were vacant as of Thursday. He said CRA "continues to satisfy service standards, including its obligations under the Official Languages Act."
A 'prized time zone'
Diego Toledo, executive director of Horizon TNL, said certain vacant positions have to be filled by Newfoundlanders because of the island's time zone. The work day begins 4½ hours earlier in Newfoundland than it does for most workers in British Columbia, he said.
"We're in a prized time zone compared to the rest of the country. We start earlier here and that opens doors for us," said Toledo.
According the federal Treasury Board, 70 federal employees based in Newfoundland and Labrador retired in 2020-21. In 2021-22, 130 retired.
Radio-Canada also contacted the three largest federal public sector unions: the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees. None of the three commented.