The many faces of Revelstoke’s staffing shortage

Staff housing, employment contracts, and employer obligations when recruiting and employing foreign workers discussed at a recent Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce lunch

Photo: Grizzly Plaza during the spring flower bloom. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer file photo

This article first appeared in print in the June 2023 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

Employers across Canada are struggling to find workers and Revelstoke is no exception. A lunch held for Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce members in late May touched base on some of the issues that challenge local employers when it comes to finding and keeping employees. 

The lunch featured short presentations from Jane Letton of Mackenzie Peak Law Corporation and Michelle Bowlen of Selkirk Immigration. The two spoke on several topics including the importance of employment contracts, navigating termination when staff accommodation is also part of an employee’s benefits, human rights considerations, and the obligations employers have when hiring temporary foreign workers.

Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce executive director Caroline Lachapelle said the lunch was intended to help spark a larger conversation on the variety of often complex and intertwined issues that are causing staffing issues on a local and regional level. 

“The point of the lunch was to bring immigration opportunities forward and how immigration functions, but it’s also about how you recruit locally, which is where [Letton] comes in with contracts that have to do with foreign workers, but also [workers who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents] in town as well,” said Lachapelle. 

What the Chamber is hearing, said Lachapelle, is that businesses need help recruiting both local and foreign workers. The recent lunch was a glimpse at two larger upcoming seminars for chamber members that will take a deep dive into the different types of work permits, sponsoring existing employees for permanent residency, and maintaining compliancy with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program; and, employer contracts, common employment law issues and employer obligations and considerations when providing housing.

The process of hiring a temporary foreign worker isn’t as easy (or as cheap) as you may think

The topic of temporary foreign workers is often a hot button issue. What may come as a surprise to some, however, is the high financial cost for businesses choosing this path. And it isn’t just service industry jobs where businesses are looking towards foreign workers to fill gaps in staffing – regionally, there are other industries also looking at this path as they struggle to recruit employees. 

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program dates to the 1960s. The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, which focused on the agricultural industry was established in 1966. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which focused on hiring high-skilled foreign labour followed in 1973. The low-skilled workers’ component was added in 2002. A 2021 report by Employment and Social Development Canada, which captured data between 2011 and 2018, showed temporary residents under the Temporary Foreign Work Program made up an exceptionally small percentage of the local labour force at 0.6 per cent.

There are a few different paths for businesses looking at bringing in foreign workers, but as Bowlen highlighted in her short presentation, each comes with a set of obligations an employer must follow. For businesses going through the Labour Market Impact Assessment (essentially permission from the federal government to hire foreign workers to fulfill specific jobs) there are a few obligations including: fulfilling (paid) advertising requirements to show you cannot find a Canadian to fill the job, having a Temporary Foreign Worker certificate, and conducting a minimum of two methods of recruitment that, according to Employment and Social Development Canada, “targets an audience that has the appropriate education, professional experience and/or skill level required for the occupation.” As of 2017, each of the methods must also target a different underrepresented group (e.g., Indigenous persons, vulnerable youth, newcomers or persons with disabilities).

Employers who are eligible to use temporary foreign workers must treat those workers the same as if they were Canadian citizens. For example, Bowlen noted that in cases where an employer is looking to terminate a relationship with a TFW there is still an obligation to comply with Canadian employment law.

The benefit of employment contracts and additional considerations for employers providing staff housing

Bowlen said she approached Letton to present on employment issues at the chamber lunch, as recently there has been changes in terms of compliance and requirements, with the federal government increasing compliance for LMIA based programs, as well as the International Mobility Program. The International Mobility Program allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers without an LMIA if the position serves Canada’s cultural and economic interest.

The International Mobility Program now requires a signed employment contract prior to bringing the new employee to Canada. 

Letton said having an employment contract at the start of a relationship can help set the framework going forward, regardless of whether that person is Canadian or not. It also allows employees to have work, make a living for themselves and know they will be treated fairly.

“It lays out the expectations of you and the potential employee you’ll have for what the relationship will look like. More importantly, it limits your liability at the end of the employee relationship if things aren’t working out,” said Letton.

Regardless of what’s going on with an employee, employer relationship Letton said if it’s not working out most employers want to see their staff go in a dignified way.

“I always think about it in terms of having good grace for everyone. Having a contract at the outset to help provide the framework for the exit and then you can move on because you know what your liability is and what you’re expecting,” she said.

There are also human rights considerations that need to be taken into account when ending an employment relationship. For example, Letton pointed to the need to accommodate employees with disabilities and the need for employers to make sure they are actually reaching the hardship standard or thinking of ways to properly accommodate an employee.  Less obvious is not discriminating against a potential employee if they have a criminal or summary conviction that is not related to the employment. 

Letton said she is also fielding more questions from employers who are offering housing as part of the employment relationship. This means employers now have two contracts with their workers: one for employment and the other for housing. In most cases, the housing piece falls under the BC Residential Tenancy Act and is something that needs to be taken into account when an employment relationship isn’t working out.

Revelstoke Chamber announces inclusive job board to help businesses, those looking for work from within Canada and abroad

In an exclusive to the Mountaineer, Lachapelle said the Revelstoke Chamber will be launching an inclusive job board, intended for use by all businesses in town. Lachapelle said the job board is a benefit for Chamber members, with non-members being able to also post for a nominal fee.

“We’d like to create a space where even foreign workers can use the Revelstoke job board abroad as a space where they would find employment,” said Lachapelle. “Our job is to connect businesses. The Chamber is a hub of connection. We don’t do everything for everybody, but we are able to case a net where we have these organizations we work with or members we have that are able to fill in these gaps from the needs of the employers.”

Melissa Jameson is the civic affairs reporter for the Revelstoke Mountaineer. She handles the newsy side of goings on about Revelstoke. Got a news tip? Feel free to contact Melissa at