The federal government aims to protect workers and improve the program with 14 proposed amendments
By Jackie Clark
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers (TFW) in Canada.
The federal government has proposed regulatory changes with the goals of improving protections for TFW, improve the government’s ability to prevent bad actors from participating in the program, and strengthen the government’s ability to effectively conduct inspections, according to a July 26 release.
Industry groups hope the regulations will protect both TFW and the farmers who employ them.
The “Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is always going to support improving the lay of the land for both employers and employees, so that means protecting temporary foreign workers appropriately, as well as employers in Canada who rely on those workers,” Mary Robinson, CFA president, told Farms.com.
When Robinson speaks to farmers, “they’re keen on anyone who’s abusing the system to be reprimanded and dealt with, because everybody is judged by the lowest rung on the ladder,” she explained.
The Canadian government has proposed 14 changes, under three general categories: TFW protections, program integrity, and alignment and technical amendments.
Under the new proposed regulations, employers would be required to provide temporary foreign workers a hard copy of information about their rights as a worker in Canada “in the worker’s preferred official language of Canada,” according to the Canada Gazette.
“That’s certainly very important,” Robinson said.
It’s currently unclear whether Spanish versions will be made available.
Employers would also be required to provide an employment agreement before they begin working, to ensure worker and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) all have the same information.
All employers have a responsibility to provide a workplace free of abuse. Updated regulations will amend the definition of abuse to include reprisal – to attempt to prevent retaliatory action against TFW.
Employers would also be responsible for ensuring that recruitment services they use do not charge compliance or recruitment fees to TFW. The regulatory proposal also involves improving access to healthcare, which means employers must “make reasonable efforts to provide access to health care services,” and employers in the TFW program must obtain and pay for private health insurance to cover emergency medical care for any time that the worker is not covered by provincial and territorial programs.
The proposed changes to program integrity would allow ESDC and IRCC to obtain documents related to employer compliance from third parties and reduced timelines for employers to respond to any non-compliance found in preliminary findings from 30 to 15 days.
Non-compliance with specific conditions (such as providing a workplace free of abuse or COVID-19 related conditions) may also result in suspension of the processing of LMIA requests.
The government estimates the total cost of these regulatory changes to employers would be $6,391,171 over 10 years. The benefits to employers would include greater transparency and clarity in the TFW program, limiting accidental and involuntary non-compliance, and better health and welfare for TFW to keep farms running safely and productively.
In the full list of regulatory changes “there certainly are some concerns,” said Robinson. “The devil is going to be in the details. We’re going to have to ensure that farmers have clarity and certainty around what the changes are going to mean, and we need that as soon as possible because people want to be on the right side of the law.”
Additionally, “it’s important for us that we don’t see a lot of duplication. Right now employers are already required to comply with provincial laws under the program, and there’s room for better coordination between governments,” she explained.
Redundancies between provincial and federal regulations can create stress and confusion for employers and workers.
“If this is done right, it does have the potential to benefit everybody,” Robinson says. “One of the biggest limiting factors in agriculture right now is labour.”
That labour shortage highlights the importance of our relationship with the tens of thousands of TFW who come into Canada every year.
The full list of proposed regulatory changes are posted in the Canada Gazette, and stakeholders are invited to provide comments by August 9.