Labour costs rise for some Whistler businesses 

New processing fee now in effect for temporary foreign workers

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Whistler Blackcomb will be shelling out almost $30,000 in extra labour costs to pay for temporary foreign workers permits this year.

That's a brand new cost to doing business this year as the government of Canada works to address concerns that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs from Canadians.

Whistler Blackcomb will be paying the new $275 processing fee for about 105 workers that come to the company through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the bulk of whom are qualified snow school instructors from various countries around the world.

That's down from roughly 300 temporary foreign workers five or six years ago, but the company still relies on the federal foreign workers program for specific skills.

"(The) $275 (charge) was a little bit of a surprise to me," admitted Joel Chevalier, Whistler Blackcomb's director of human resources, who, along with others in the industry, had predicted it would be about half that cost when the government signalled changes were on the horizon.

Whistler Blackcomb had budgeted extra money this year for the changes, which came into effect on July 31 with an aim to "ensure that Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs."

While Chevalier said the new changes would assist the Canadian labour pool, they come at a significant cost to some employers.

"Our preference... is not to sponsor at all," said Chevalier.

The issue was raised at last week's "12 @ 12" Chamber of Commerce luncheon with human resource directors in Whistler.

Chamber board chair Sue Adams recognizes the concerns of the added cost of doing business, particularly in a resort town.

"We do have a lot of temporary foreign workers here in Whistler," she said.

"This is just another layer of red tape and hoops that the small business owner has to go through to conduct their business."

She too is dealing with the issue first hand, trying to extend visas for two Czech employees at the Pemberton Valley Supermarket.

It is not clear just how many temporary foreign workers are in Whistler in any given year.

Nationally, however, there are more than 330,000 workers who are in Canada as part of the federal temporary foreign worker program. That number has tripled in the last decade.

In the meantime, the national unemployment rate is 7.1 per cent — higher in Canadian youth at almost 14 per cent.

According to the Economic Action Plan: "The purpose of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to help fill genuine and acute labour needs. The government has been reviewing the program to ensure that goal is met and that Canadians are never displaced as a result."

In the meantime, Adams said the long predicted shift in the labour market is starting to come to pass, with not as many resumes coming through the door.

"There's not the influx of people coming in looking for jobs," she said.

While some roles are getting harder to fill at Whistler Blackcomb, Chevalier said they are still flooded with 25,000 to 35,000 resumes a year.

But there is consensus that the job market is changing.

"We all do agree that it's going to get harder and harder to recruit in the next few years," he said.

The new TFWP $275 processing fee covers the cost of a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) for each position. The new application also poses questions to the employer to help ensure that the program is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs.

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