By Robert Vineberg and Christopher Rastrick
In the Edmonton Journal and Star Phoenix
October 3, 2016
The ski-lift operator in British Columbia, the meat packer in Manitoba and the lobster fisherman off New Brunswick are all doing jobs that have been hard to fill with Canadians so employers have come to rely on temporary foreign workers. The provinces can do more to ensure the rights of this vulnerable group are protected.
Despite rules in place to prevent abuses, many Canadians would be surprised at the challenges and precarious situations many temporary foreign workers (TFWs) face.
There are stories of unscrupulous recruiters abroad charging inordinate fees to find TFWs a job in Canada. After arrival some employers even demand reimbursement for their travel to Canada and overcharge for accommodation. There are who employers may require people to work significant overtime without pay or, despite rules saying they must be paid the median wage for their occupation, pay them less.
Finally, employers may not provide adequate workplace safety and safety training for TFWs. The workers themselves often know little of where to turn if they are abused.
A House of Commons committee recently released a report offering more than 20 recommendations to improve the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). One recommendation was to ensure these workers are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and how to report abuses and resolve disputes.
Change is coming. The provinces and territories are negotiating information-sharing agreements with the federal government. These will provide provincial labour ministries with information about who has hired temporary foreign workers and where they are working, facilitating timely inspections to ensure that workers’ rights are being upheld.
However, more can, and should, be done by the provinces, drawing from Manitoba’s model.
Since 2009, Manitoba requires both employers and TFW recruiters to register with the province. It also prohibits any direct or indirect fees being charged to TFWs. Employers must post bonds to cover any expenses workers incurred illegally, regardless of where they were incurred.
This provision encourages Manitoba employers to contract only with reputable recruiters. Violations of the act by an employer can lead to fines and even disqualification from hiring foreign workers. Recently, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia passed similar legislation. Other provinces need to follow suit.
Through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), provinces and territories (except Quebec, which has a different system) allow temporary foreign workers with permanent job offers to apply for permanent residence. As Manitoba does, provinces can use this program for workers at any skill level, whereas federal immigration categories exclude workers in lower-skilled occupations.
In many parts of the country, it is the lower-skilled jobs that employers find difficult to fill. After a TFW has been in their job for a couple of years, and if the job is still difficult to fill with a Canadian, inviting them to become a permanent resident is good for our economy and our communities.
The federal government’s caps on the number of nominees by province limits the number of TFWs who can be converted to permanent resident status. Many provinces would like to see increases in their caps, and the situation in Manitoba makes it easy to understand why. At 5,500 workers annually, Manitoba has one of the highest caps on PNPs in the country but could use more. Recently, Premier Christy Clark called for an increase to B.C.’s PNP cap, as well.
The House of Commons committee report suggests that Parliament is serious about protecting TFWs. The federal government can encourage the provinces to improve TFW protections by offering to increase the PNP cap for provinces that introduce legislation similar to Manitoba’s.
It was the provinces that originally fought for legal control of labour relations, and won that right in 1925. It is their responsibility to ensure all workers are safe and fairly compensated in their workplace, regardless of their nationality.
Robert Vineberg, a senior fellow at Canada West Foundation, was formerly Director General of Citizenship & Immigration Canada’s Prairies and Northern Territories Region. Christopher Rastrick, PhD, is a policy analyst with Canada West Foundation.