Temporary foreign worker exemptions help Banff businesses

March 28, 2016

By Alia Dharssi, Calgary Herald |

When Banff’s Rimrock Resort faced a shortage of about 30 workers last summer, its general manager, Trevor Long, stepped in to change bed linens and work in the dining room. Some of his staff worked seven days a week.

Down the road at the Fairmont Banff Springs, the human resources team struggled to staff 100 or more positions that were available each day as many of its employees helped fill the gap by working six days per week, recalled Helen Elgie, the hotel’s regional director for human resources.

“Although Alberta is in an economic slump right now with the oil and gas industry, Banff and Lake Louise (are) not due to the Canadian dollar,” said Long. “Banff is extremely, extremely busy and we’re still having very difficult times filling our jobs.”

Experiences like those are why the federal government’s announcement earlier this month that it would temporarily ease restrictions for seasonal industries using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been well-received in Banff and Lake Louise, where hotels and restaurants expect shortages of more than 200 workers per month during the summer.

But, with the high season fast approaching, the extent to which the move will make a difference depends on how quickly the government processes applications.

“The over-arching message that it’s going to be easier for employers to access the program is a huge and positive piece of news,” said Darren Reeder, executive director of the Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association. “What falls behind that, though, is how long is it going to take to process LMIA (labour market impact assessment) applications.”

The region will be short an average of 239 workers, including line cooks, housekeepers, waiters and dishwashers, per month from April through to November, according to labour market analysis conducted by the hospitality association before the federal government’s announcement. It predicted the highest deficit would take place in July, when the region would be short 345 workers, and brimming with international tourists capitalizing on the cheap Canadian dollar.

Last summer, hospitality businesses in the region paid staff almost 10,000 hours of overtime to cover shortages, Reeder said.

“People that normally work the back end of the operation (were) up front – changing linens, serving in restaurants – just because we didn’t have enough frontline staff to assist us in delivering on the needs of the visitor.”

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