By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
ST. JOHN'S — According to a labour force estimate put out by the Department of Finance in Dec. 2022, currently in the province the unemployment rate is sitting at 9.4 per cent, which is approximately 5 per cent higher than the Canadian unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent.
A Labour Shortage Trends report in Canada released by Statistics Canada in Nov. 2022 that examined the five primary job sectors: construction, manufacturing, retail trade, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services, the ratio of new hires to vacancies has been trending downward, and stated that the unemployment to job vacancy ratio in Canada is at a historical low, but it is apparent in Newfoundland and Labrador that the additional five per cent unemployment rate is quite significant and doesn’t necessarily represent the same trend represented across the country.
Many regions across the province, from the retail sector to healthcare, childcare to construction, have felt the effects of COVID-19 shutdowns, an aging population demographic and, readily apparent in more rural areas, the lower number of residents available to work.
In a report released through the Department of Finance on July 27, 2022, Employer Responses to Labour Shortages, author René Morissette documented numerous strategies that were discussed and planned to be implemented in order to combat the labour shortages that were especially significant in early 2022. The report found that the selected strategies many businesses planned to use through 2022 in order to retain and attract more employees included the following:
• Increase employee’s human capital
• Offer remote work or flexible scheduling
• Increase the wages or benefits of existing employees and new employees.
Unfortunately, not all businesses are able to afford to increase wages or benefits or offer flexible scheduling due to the size of the business or the type of work that is offered, making it necessary for further steps to ensure these businesses are able to keep their doors open. One such option is the introduction of foreign workers to assist in the labour shortages felt across the province.
A representative for the Department of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills issued the following statement in response to email inquiries:
“Local employers use foreign workers to fill positions that would otherwise go unfilled because of the lack of an available local labour force. This allows businesses to continue to run and residents the ability to access certain goods and services. While misinformation about immigration will always exist, and bad actors contribute to spreading it, there is recent data showing that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are more welcoming to newcomers now than ever before."
There is funding available to help offset the cost of hiring foreign workers to fill vacant positions, but those funds are only accessible after an employer has proven that they have tried and failed to hire an employee at the local level first.
“Something important to note is that employers are eligible to hire through the Temporary Foreign Worker program only after proving to the federal government that they tried to hire locally (a citizen or a permanent resident) and were unsuccessful in doing so. They have to have had a job ad posted on the Government of Canada Job Bank website, in addition to two other places. If the subject position is not filled, only then they would be allowed to hire internationally."
The province has also focused on re-training and education.
“Economic immigration, including foreign workers, is part of the solution to filling vacant positions in the labour market. Other efforts being taken by the Provincial Government include spending $150 million annually to train and upskill the local labour force and designing post-secondary programs for the jobs of the future.”
The Department added that there is no evidence or indication to suggest that immigrants result in fewer jobs for locals.
"On the contrary, research shows that economic immigration leads to job creation in an economy. There’s also the fact that employers must search locally to fill a job first and can only hire foreign workers if there is no local interest.”
While the Federal Government has jurisdiction over the temporary foreign worker corridor, the Department of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills has many programs geared toward employers.
“We have wage subsidies and grant programs designed to assist employers. Visit this link for an overview of employer programs: https://www.gov.nl.ca/ipgs/employ-support/foremployers/. For individuals, we offer a range of employment services that can be explored on the following page: https://www.gov.nl.ca/ipgs/empservices/. Anyone looking to avail of our services can get started by emailing EmploymentPrograms@gov.nl.ca."
Opening the province to foreign workers does more than just fill a job vacancy for businesses.
“Local employers understand the benefits of using foreign workers and economic immigration to fill positions and run their businesses. Newcomers working in the province pay taxes, buy goods and services, and in doing so expand the provincial tax base and provide fuel for economic growth. These things make life better for everyone.”
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News