Better Pay and Benefits

Response to the Proposed Regulatory Changes Amending the Immigration and Refugee Act as it Relates to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

January 21, 2014

Introductory comments 

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is seriously broken. The proposed regulatory changes do not go far enough to address the TFWP shortcomings.

The programs have grown to epic proportions with no meaningful oversight or authentic measures to hold employers, labour brokers or immigration consultants accountable.

The program is serving as a wage suppression and displacement tool, negatively affecting both migrant workers and members of the national workforce.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) recently released research analysis drawn from the Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey and from Citizenship and Immigration Canada data shows roughly 75% of the new jobs created in Canada in 2010 and 2011 were filled by employers accessing temporary work permits despite 1.4 million Canadian residents being unemployed. Clearly, the national workforce is being displaced from available job opportunities.

Planned government reforms, announced at the end of April intended to address flaws inherent with the TFWP, will not be adequate nor genuinely address the scope of the problems associated with granting of temporary work permits to employers, labour brokers or immigration consultants.

The federal governments unchecked expansion of the TFWP into all sectors of the labour force—particularly in what are termed the “low-skilled” occupational categories—National Occupational Classifications (NOC), Codes C &D—is enabling employers to pursue a low wage agenda and displacement strategy that negatively affect the labour force and our economic recovery.

In addition, and for too long, far too many temporary migrant workers have been subject to a wide array of abuses, inadequate workplace protections and exploitation at the hands of labour brokers and employers eager to take advantage of an unchecked system.

The situation is untenable for all workers, no matter where they come from.  Comprehensive and dramatic policy change is needed immediately.

The CLC calls for an immediate end to the growth and abuses within the TFWP and related pipelines that are displacing workers and enabling a low wage agenda that benefits employers and hurts communities and workers-no matter where they come from.

We acknowledge there will be situations of skills shortages; however, we must have a transparent and objective method in place to verify the need to issue temporary work permits. Proven methodologies exist and have been applied to the Canadian labour market in the past—they must be utilized now.

Given demographic trends of an aging population/declining birth rates and global competition for newcomers, we call for an urgent transition toward enhanced annual intake of immigrants (i.e. 400,000/year) and more robust pathways for migrant workers to obtain permanent resident status rather than maintaining temporary migration schemes.

Given that over 1 million Canadians are currently unemployed and more than 3 million are underemployed, it is evident that employers claims that so-called “low-skilled workers” (NOC, Codes C & D) are in short supply is unjustified.

The TFWP has tripled in size over a short period with employers returning year after year and in increasing number. The largest increases have been in the low-skilled occupations—sectors where workers have the least protections and lowest wages. The addictive and repetitive pattern of employers’ accessing the TFWP/low-skills programs indicates these are not temporary jobs.

We call for the end of employers’ access for temporary work permits in the “low- skills” categories (NOC, Codes C & D), excluding the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP). The phase-out of this program must begin immediately. At the same time, we are demanding the government expand pathways to permanent resident status for migrant workers currently in these streams.

We recognize that migrant workers in the SAWP and the LCP are categorized as “low-skilled” under the NOC system and that there are valid reasons to challenge the classification of caregiving, for example: as being ‘low-skilled’.

Both of these temporary migration streams within the TFWP have a long history and persistent problems.

For example, seasonal agricultural workers are tied to one employer; denied a pathway to permanent resident status despite annually returning to Canada, in some cases for decades; and in most cases, denied the right to unionize.

Reforms are required to this stream, including reinstatement of access to social service provisions which these workers pay for. In addition, seasonal agricultural workers must be provided the option of a path to permanent resident status.

Live-in caregivers are required to live in their employer’s residence for the term of their contracts subjecting them to workplace exploitation and sexual abuses.  The proposed regulatory changes do not address this long standing policy shortcoming. Rather than persist in requiring a live-in residence obligation for live-in caregivers, we recommend the regulations be amended to allow live-in caregivers to live independently of the employer’s residence with accommodation support being provided by the employer as part of the employment contract.

While there is a pathway to permanent resident status, under this program it is not a fair or just route. These workers are also prevented from taking educational training and development opportunities. This too is unjust.

Fundamental and far reaching changes are overdue for both of these program streams; hence, we demand that a meaningful consultation process with stakeholders be established that will lead to the implementation of requisite changes.

Summary

Labour and our allies are demanding comprehensive policy change in three-key areas.

The entire TFWP must be immediately scaled back in scope and there must be an end to employers access to “low-skilled” occupations streams (NOC, C&D), excluding the SAWP and LIC. Strong new eligibility requirements for employers seeking temporary work permits must be established and accountability and punitive measures to address violations must be strengthened. A meaningful consultation process must be established that will lead to the implementation of needed and wide-ranging reforms.

Comprehensive investments are needed immediately in job training and apprenticeship programs. Return to a robust national policy of permanent immigration that contributes to nation building.

Comments on the proposed regulatory amendments

It is noteworthy that the impact statement accompanying the proposed regulatory changes acknowledges the TFWP was designed to contribute “to Canada’s economic development by allowing employers to hire foreign workers to meet their short-term labour and skills needs only when qualified Canadian citizens or permanent residents are not readily available.”

This mandate is reiterated a number of times in the background paper. For example, the backgrounder also states, “When labour shortages are acute, the TFWP should be a last resort for businesses so they can continue to grow and create more opportunities for Canadians.”

There is abundant evidence that with the rapid expansion of the TFWP since 2006 these criterions (see bolded sections) have not been upheld in a rigorous manner.

Royal Bank of Canada/iGATE being granted temporary work permits for over forty workers who were being trained by workers already employed and who would have been displaced, stand as one prominent example. There is good reason to believe that this is not an isolated incident. Media reports have revealed that a number of the big banks have been maintaining this practice for some time.

The release of a 475 page document obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour documenting thousands of employers who successfully obtained Accelerated Labour Market Opinions (ALMO) and temporary work permits for high-skilled workers to staff convenience stores, fast food restaurants and gas stations raises questions as to the integrity of the program rules are being followed.

In addition, the Globe and Mail revealed that over 33,000 employers had successfully applied for LMO’s in the period from 2010-2012. A review of the employers listed in this data set adds yet more doubt to the integrity of the TFWP.

Download the full report. [[{“fid”:”213″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”},”type”:”media”,”attributes”:{“class”:”file media-element file-default”},”link_text”:”tfwresponseenglish.pdf”}]]

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