Changes to temporary worker program levels playing field

By Jasminee Sahoye


Temporary foreign workers have been earning 15% less than Canadians but that has now been changed as a result of some changes to the program.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) says it has welcomed some of the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program announced by the federal government, notably, the withdrawal of the rule allowing migrant workers to be paid 15% less than Canadians.  Employers had to offer foreign workers the same wage as Canadian workers doing the same job in the same geographic region, but the 15 per cent rule drew a lot of controversy and confusion.

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister, Jason Kenney said the rule never meant that foreign workers were paid less than Canadian workers when they were doing the same job at the same workplace. He said less than five per cent of employers used the flexibility that was given to them.

“Given the confusion about this and given the fact that it has not been used, we decided to end the pilot,” he said.

Kenney said there will still be wage differences among employees depending on their experience level.

“In any workplace there’s going to be a range of wages and salaries. If someone is a new hire, and starts at a starting wage, they are going to be paid less than the average. But we hope this will have the effect of raising overall wages and salaries,” said Kenney.

Kenney said the government is responding to concerns about how the program is being used and is making changes to ensure that Canadians get the first crack at available jobs.

“The temporary foreign worker program was intended to fill acute labour shortages on a temporary basis only, not to displace Canadian workers,” Kenney told a news conference in Ottawa.

One of the key changes is a new fee that will be imposed on employers when they apply to the government for a labour market opinion (LMO). A positive labour market opinion must be obtained in order for employers to bring foreign workers to Canada. It takes a number of factors into consideration including what potential benefits hiring the foreign workers would have on the labour market and what efforts were made to hire Canadian workers for the positions.

The Canadian Council for Refugees says, it regrets that the announcement did not address the rights abuses suffered by migrant workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation because of their precarious status.

“There is widespread mistreatment of migrant workers in the low-skilled streams,” said Loly Rico, CCR President. “The Canadian Council for Refugees has deep concerns over the government’s approach to migrant workers as disposable, short-term labour with fewer rights and protections than Canadian workers.”

The number of migrant workers in Canada has increased by 70% in the last five years, as Canada has shifted towards a reliance on migrant labour to fill non-temporary jobs in sectors such as food processing and hospitality, the CCR states in a release.

“Factors that make temporary foreign workers particularly vulnerable include closed work permits, lack of information on their rights and recourses, and a lack of monitoring. In some cases, temporary foreign workers have become victims of human trafficking.”

The CCR added that some of the changes could have negative impacts on workers and that it will be monitoring these.