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Government to unveil major reform to foreign worker program Friday

OTTAWA - The Harper government announces reforms to the controversial temporary foreign worker program on Friday.

The announcement will be made by Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander at a 1:30 p.m. ET news conference in Ottawa.

A poll commissioned by Ottawa suggested Canadians would be in favour of creating an easier path for workers under the program to remain in the country and even obtain citizenship in order to retain their skills.

Industry groups consulted by Kenney and officials say they believe the key change will be to make it more difficult for firms to bring in workers for unskilled, low-paying jobs, such as in the food-service industry.

As well, news reports have speculated the government might impose a wage floor for TFWs that is higher than the Canadian minimum wage.

CBC News reported late Thursday that it has learned the reforms will include publishing the names of companies who bring in foreign workers and the number of workers they're allowed to bring in.

One change almost certain to be in the measures is new fines for firms that abuse the system.

Kenney recently told MPs in the House he intended to "severely punish non-compliant employers and prevent distortions in certain regions or industries in the labour market."

As well, Kenney will likely increase the cost to employers of bringing in temporary workers.

The program has become a hot potato for the Harper government ever since stories of abuses came to light in the news media, including one case where Royal Bank employees were asked to train foreign workers to take over their jobs.

In February, 65 Alberta ironworkers alleged they were let go so that foreign workers could replace them.

The program has become increasingly used by Canadian firms for both high- and low-skilled positions, despite relatively high levels of unemployment and data showing the number of unemployed to vacancies was rising.

A recent government calculation estimated there were 386,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, or about two per cent of the labour force, up from about 100,000 in 2002.

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