Temporary foreign workers: stricter rules

The federal government recently announced a strengthening of the conditions for hiring foreign temporary workers. A reform to counter a series of abuses recently denounced in a number of companies across the country.

The dismissal of 45 employees of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), replaced by workers from India hired under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, lit the fuse. The scandal uncovered by the CBC has brought in its wake the discovery of other abuses of the same nature. For example, the mining company HB Mining International, 55% owned by the Chinese company Huiyong Holdings, stated fluency in Mandarin as a condition of employment for 201 vacancies n British Columbia last year.

In an open letter, Gord Nixon, CEO of RBC, apologised for his lack of sensitivity to Canadian employees. He added in his defence, however, that the Igate company, in charge of hiring Indian workers, operated in the greatest respect of Canada’s laws. For its part, HD Mining International defended hiring temporary foreign workers with such criteria by the fact that they had not found any Canadian workers able to use the equipment of Chinese origin in the mine.

Priority to Canadians for access to jobs

The federal government therefore responded by tackling the problem head on and on April 29 presented new measures backtracking on decisions announced last year. In particular, the possibility of paying foreign workers as much as 15% less than Canadians and requesting accelerated analysis of needs for hiring abroad was cancelled. The goal is to better manage hiring of foreign workers while terminating these unethical practices.

At a press conference, Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, expressed his concerns regarding the turn taken by using the foreign temporary work program while Canadians must remain the priority for job offers. He also said that this program aims to fill a shortage of manpower and not to replace the country’s’ employees.

Companies will have to prove themselves

To hire workers from beyond the country’s borders, employers must now prove that they have done everything possible to find their labour force in Canada by establishing a plan to train and recruit Canadian candidates before going abroad. Companies can no longer require mastery of a language other than French or English. The only exception is if fluency in a foreign language is an essential qualification for the proposed position, such as an interpreter or tourist guide. In addition, companies will have to pay higher fees when submitting a visa application. The salaries of foreign workers will be aligned with those of Canadians in order to curb firms tempted by a better labour market. Finally, the government’s power will be increased to allow any work permit or any labour market opinion (LMO) considered inadequate to be revoked. It should be noted that most of these measures were already included in the 2013 Economic Action Plan.

Some sectors less affected than others

However, not all sectors are in the same boat for application of these new provisions. The agricultural sector will only be affected by the potential for revocation of work permits and LMOs. Indeed, the sector has experienced a real shortage of manpower and positions available are indeed temporary. Moreover, the Temporary Worker Program was originally designed to attract cheap foreign labour specifically for agricultural jobs. It was soon extended to fill both high and low skilled vacancies in all areas of employment. The number of applications doubled in less than 10 years.

The proposed changes should not only enable the TFW program to be strengthened and improved but also favour the resumption of economic growth. Finally, in the context of the current review, the Harper government will consult citizens about other measures to include in the program to better meet the needs of Canadians and Canadian companies.

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