Deal to boost temporary foreign worker cap is weeks away, labour minister says


Quebec is finalizing an agreement with Ottawa that will see more foreign workers allowed in to serve in industries such as retail, food service and lodging, Jean Boulet said Friday.

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Relief for Quebec’s understaffed restaurants and hotels is on the way.

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The province is finalizing an agreement with Ottawa that will see more foreign workers allowed in over the coming weeks to serve in industries such as retail, food service and lodging, Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet said Friday. Temporary visas will be delivered under a fast-track system, he said.

Like many other jurisdictions, Quebec is grappling with a labour shortage that has left tens of thousands of jobs vacant in a wide range of industries. A pan-Canadian study on the worker scarcity, published last month by BDC , the bank for Canadian entrepreneurs, found that hiring difficulty was the highest in Quebec.

“We’re going to make sure that there are jobs in restaurants and lodging sectors that have access to the simplified treatment,” Boulet said at an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

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“We’re almost there. We’re almost done identifying the jobs. We’ve done this in partnership with employers, unions and the education world. This should be up and running within a few weeks.”

Quebec could also ease labour shortages by following the lead of European countries and hiring disabled or older employees , Boulet said. More efforts could also be made to entice Quebecers on welfare, Indigenous people or former prisoners to join or rejoin the workforce, he said.

“We shouldn’t neglect this pool of labour,” he said. “Experienced workers want flexible schedules, more vacation. There is a huge potential here, and it’s one of my preoccupations.”

Statistics Canada data shows just over 36 per cent of Quebecers aged 60 to 69 held a job in 2019 — less than the Canadian average of 41 per cent and that of most OECD countries. In Ontario, the activity rate of these “experienced” workers was 42.9 per cent.  

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Had Quebec been able to match Ontario’s activity rate, it would have 69,466 additional older workers available today, according a study by HEC Montréal professors published this week . That employee pool could have helped fill more than half of the nearly 130,000 Quebec jobs that remained vacant in 2019.

“The labour shortage doesn’t only rest on the shoulders of the government,” Boulet said. “It’s a collective challenge and there is no magic wand. We have to add up a number of different solutions. Let’s not be naive. The population is getting old.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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