Funding announced at the end of July to support workers, increased inspection, and further cost-sharing opportunities for employers
By Jackie Clark
The federal government has expanded on how funding announced July 31 will help protect migrant workers and provide financial assistance for their employers to enhance the health and safety of those workers.
Of the total $58.6-million additional funding for this purpose, $6 million will go “to migrant worker support organizations to increase outreach and improve workers’ understanding of how to protect themselves from COVID-19, their rights in the workplace, services available to them, as well as information on how to access health, income and emergency supports when needed,” Isabelle Maheu, a spokesperson from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) told Farms.com in an e-mailed statement.
The e-mail did not specify which organizations would be funded.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Canada recently released a special report titled The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada, 2020. UFCW Canada is a private-sector union that has been advocating for both foreign and domestic agricultural workers for three decades.
The UFCW Canada report outlined seven federal and seven provincial reforms they deem urgently needed to improve the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). These include replacing employer-specific contracts with open work permits and increasing paths to permanent residency. The report also outlined some of the additional challenges faced by TFWP and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) participants during COVID-19, including complaints of employer non-compliance with health and safety measures.
Part of the federal funding announced July 31 is allocated to addressing issues of non-compliance.
“The Government of Canada takes the integrity of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program and the protection of foreign workers seriously and does not tolerate any abuse or misuse of workers or the program. The TFW Program has a comprehensive compliance framework in place to protect temporary foreign workers from mistreatment,” said the statement from Maheu.
“The cornerstone of the compliance regime is the authority to conduct inspections to verify whether employers meet conditions set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. … All allegations of possible misuse or abuse of a temporary foreign worker or the Program that are received through the Service Canada Tip Line, the Online Fraud Reporting Tool, from provincial/territorial partners, from the media or other sources are reviewed to determine the best course of action. This may include an inspection of the employer and/or interviews with both the foreign workers and Canadians,” she explained.
With the additional $16 million in funding announced July 31, “the Government of Canada is immediately expanding the scope of inspections beyond the initial focus on the 14-day quarantine period and is engaging with provinces and territories to enhance information sharing to protect workers. The Government of Canada will also increase the number of inspections significantly,” Maheu added. The department expects to conduct up to 3,000 additional inspections, focusing on workplaces and workers vulnerable to COVID-19.
“During inspections, the Government will prioritize that temporary foreign workers are paid for a minimum of 30 hours/week for the duration of the 14-day quarantine, and proactively inspect any farms that have been reported to be negating this responsibility,” the statement from Maheu said. “The Government is also improving the worker tip line – including adding access to a live agent and provide services in multiple languages – as well as strengthening how allegations of employer non-compliance are treated. For example, a dedicated liaison officer has been established within ESDC to work with consulates and migrant network groups.”
Finally, the remaining $35 million will be available to employers for cost-sharing improvements to employee-living quarters and COVID-19 response.
“Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) expects to see high demand under this initiative. Program details are being finalized but will support costs that will improve the health and safety of farm workers by limiting the spread of COVID-19 in agricultural operations,” an AAFC rep told Farms.com in an e-mailed statement. “These could include improvements to workspace adjustments and housing to allow for proper safety measures and physical distancing, as well as personal protective equipment. These investments will be an additional step towards improving on-farm living conditions for those who come to work in Canada to field and harvest crops.”
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