Feds announce new regulations to strengthen protections for temporary foreign workers

By Lincoln DePradine

Sean Fraser

Just weeks after nationwide protests, when demands were made for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do “the right thing’’ and regularize the status of undocumented people and migrants, the federal government has announced that it is adopting “concrete action to better support’’ temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada.

Details of the government’s action were unveiled by Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough; and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser.

“Everyone deserves to work in dignity, in safety, and in health. With these changes, our government is strengthening protections for temporary foreign workers. These individuals come to Canada and work for Canadian businesses, and help drive the Canadian economy forward. We have a responsibility to ensure they are protected and respected,’’ said Qualtrough.

As part of 13 new amendments to the “Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations’’ of the TFW, “employers are now required to provide reasonable access to healthcare services. Employers using the TFW Program are also required to provide private health insurance when needed’’, said Qualtrough and Fraser.

For many years, through a series of activities including street protests and petitions to government, workers’ rights organizations, human rights activists and labour leaders have been lobbying for change, arguing that without having their status regularized, migrants and undocumented people remain open to exploitation, abuse and mistreatment from employers.

Carla Qualtrough

It’s reported that Canada is home to more than 500,000 undocumented people. Advocates say the undocumented are among 1.2 million people allowed into Canada every year on temporary work, study or refugee claimant permits.

They claim that migrants, described as “mostly low-waged, racialized, working class people’’, who do not have access to permanent residency, frequently find it “difficult – and often impossible – to speak up for their rights at work’’, and also are “excluded from healthcare and social services’’.

In their statement, Qualtrough and Fraser now say “the government of Canada takes its responsibilities to protect temporary foreign workers very seriously. Ensuring the health and safety of these workers, while they are in Canada, is a key priority’’.

Other amendments, “to strengthen protections for TFWs’’ and “help to prevent mistreatment and abuse during their stay in Canada’’, include “mandating that employers provide all TFWs with information about their rights in Canada’’; and also “prohibiting reprisal by employers against workers; for instance, against those who come forward with complaints’’.

In addition, employers no longer are allowed to charge recruitment fees to workers, and a promise is made of “expanding collaboration with consulates, as well as provinces and local authorities’’ in an attempt to “identify concerns that need immediate attention and take action’’.

The 13 amendments, which “complement other worker protection initiatives already underway’’, will serve to “deter bad actors’’ from involvement in the TFW program, according to the Canadian government statement.

It will “improve the program’s ability to conduct inspections and administer appropriate consequences for those who do not follow the rules’’, the statement said.

“Employment and Social Development Canada can also suspend the processing of any new Labour Market Impact Assessments, if there is reason to suspect that an employer’s non-compliance with the new conditions would put a foreign worker’s health or safety at serious risk.’’

Immigration minister Fraser, reiterating that the rights of all workers, including TFWs, are protected by Canadian law, said that with the new regulations in place, Canada is “strengthening its ability to protect temporary foreign workers and is enhancing its capacity to prevent potential mistreatment or abuse during TFWs period of employment in Canada’’.