Needed Change to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Author:Patricia Hughes
Date:June 11, 2019

Much has been said about what is wrong with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), particularly in relation to certain categories of workers, whether fundamentally about the notion of “migrant worker” or about details of the program. One of the serious problems with the program has been the way in which workers have been tied to particular employers. A recent change, allowing workers to change employers, has the potential to address one of the negative aspects of the system.

Under the program, designed to allow employers to hire foreign workers when they cannot find domestic workers, employers can apply to hire workers from other countries to satisfy a number of different occupational needs: in-home caregivers, agricultural workers, academics, skilled or unskilled, high or low-waged workers. Agricultural workers may also enter Canada through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, created in 1966. Each category has its own requirements.

Criticisms of the program have tended to focus on agricultural workers, low-wage/unskilled workers and in-home caregivers: see major critiques by Fay Faraday, the Law Commission of Ontario (in the context of vulnerable workers more generally), both released in 2012, and Jenna Hennebry, Janet McLaughlin and Kerry Preibisch (impact on health and lack of access to health care) in 2015. More recent media stories from 2019 include “Calls for reform after Ontario migrant workers claim they worked in terrible conditions” and “Threats, crippling debt and lives lost: Human trafficking leaves foreign workers suffering in silence“.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of changes to the program that are intended to improve the conditions of workers. For example, employers who are non-compliant with the terms of the program or with the arrangements under which they hired a worker under the TFWP will be listed on Immigration and Citizenship Canada’s website. In addition to the name of the employer, the reason for non-compliance is listed (for example, “[t]he employer did not have the money to pay the wages agreed to with a live-in caregiver”, “[t]he employer broke federal and/or provincial/territorial laws about hiring and recruiting employees in the province/territory where the temporary worker works” or “[t]he employer did not put in enough effort to make sure the workplace was free of: physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and financial abuse.” (Rules on compliance/non-compliance are...

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