In recent years, Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been opened up to make it easier for Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to fill labour shortages in their growing businesses. As a result, the annual number of foreign workers coming to Canada has skyrocketed over the past few years, and a growing proportion of them are unskilled. Foreign worker advocates are now calling for a review of the program to better protect foreign worker rights and to explore avenues to allow them to transition to Canadian Permanent Residents.
Both federal and provincial governments have recognized the need for reforms to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Reports of recommendations have been published and are currently being reviewed by program coordinators.
In Alberta, where the number of foreign workers ballooned in the province to nearly 60,000 in December 2008 up from just under 40,000 a year earlier, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has been taking measures to better protect foreign worker rights. In December 2007, the AFL established an advisory office and helpline for temporary foreign worker complaints and concerns. It also conducts worksite audits to ensure that Alberta employers are compliant with provincial labour standards.
The AFL recently released a report calling for “the immediate end to the TFWP in its current form” and for the creation of mechanisms to offer Canadian Permanent Residency to all temporary foreign workers currently in Canada.
Additionally, a Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee report on illegal and temporary foreign workers has recently been tabled in the House of Commons, offering dozens of recommendations to improve the TFWP.
The recommendations include getting rid of a current rule that ties work permits to a specific Canadian employer along with improved measures to protect workers from unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers.
“I rather suspect that a goodly number of their recommendations will find their way into law when the government implements changes to the program,” stated a spokesperson for Canada’s Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney. “The Minister is currently consulting with cultural communities and employers on how to improve the temporary foreign worker program as well as the live-in caregiver program to better protect foreign workers, with a view to implementing tougher regulations in the upcoming months.”
Last month, Manitoba introduced a new Worker Recruitment and Protection Act to address certain issues faced by temporary foreign workers in the province. The Act requires that all foreign worker recruitment agencies be registered and licensed by the province and prohibits recruitment agencies from charging fees to foreign workers. Manitoba has also implemented an improved regulatory system, requiring both employers and recruitment agencies to submit detailed records about the place of employment, the workers’ duties and wages, and up-to-date contact information for the temporary foreign workers.
Foreign worker advocates are calling for similar legislation across the country.
While these reports and recommendations are being reviewed, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is currently running an awareness campaign to inform temporary foreign workers and potential Canadian immigrants about how to protect themselves from dishonest and unethical immigration consultants and representatives.