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Foreign worker program under fire

Posted on May 7, 2014 by Taber Times

Mounting instances of abuse by unscrupulous employers has prompted the federal government to issue a partial moratorium on their temporary foreign worker program.  

Late last month, Employment Minister Jason Kenney banned restaurants from accessing the program after fresh allegations of misconduct have arisen across Canada.

“Really difficult situation,” said Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne. “I know a lot of organizations depend on temporary foreign workers, so it’s a bit of a tough thing, but the question has been coming up over and over again. I know in fact in our riding I’ve had some complaints about some organizations that appear to have not done the right thing with some of their temporary foreign workers.”

Kenney’s announcement came as a surprise to many, considering his staunch defence of the program amidst rising criticism. The moratorium will remain in effect until the completion of an ongoing review of the temporary foreign worker program.

“Obviously a number of organizations have, for lack of a better word — cheated, or misrepresented their applications,” said Payne. “That’s obviously created some problems. Whether in fact they used a temporary foreign worker without trying to recruit Canadians, it’s hard to say for sure. But the minister has more data on that than I do at this point in time, and I know that he’s working on some solutions. So we’re just kind of waiting to hear on the issue.”

Initially designed as a program to deal with shortages in skilled labour, rather than the recruiting of labour for all industries, the temporary foreign worker program has seen a massive expansion over the past decade, rising from about 100,000 people in 2002 to over 338,000 currently, according to a report issued by the C.D. Howe Institute.

The temporary foreign workers program has had a significant impact in the Medicine Hat riding, and not only in the food services industry. The greenhouse industry in Redcliff and areas surrounding Medicine Hat also utilizes a sizable number of temporary foreign workers, as well as other industries.

Although the moratorium currently only affects the food services industry, Payne pointed out abuse of the program has not been limited to that area of employment.

“I did have one (employer) in Medicine Hat call me, somebody out of the greenhouses — which are not really affected in the decision at this point in time, but it’s hard to say where this thing is going to go. We’ve seen way too many companies cheating on this, starting with a mining company in B.C. and a construction company in Edmonton, and then the Royal Bank, and now there’s a bunch of these fast food ones that are starting to show up as well — it’s not one or two, there’s a bunch of them. At some point, because organizations or people are trying to get around the rules, we end up having to do something to try to mitigate that.”

According to Payne, there is currently no timetable in place for when employers and Canadians might see some resolution on the issue.

“The minister (Kenney) hasn’t been clear on when he’s going to resolve or put forward his resolutions on this. I know he wants to get it done sooner rather that later. It’s hard to say.”

Payne added changes to the program are needed, while advocating for stiffer penalties for abusers.

“Absolutely, there’s no question in my mind, and there needs to be. I did ask the minister a number of months ago, first of all for these organizations that are cheating, that they receive huge fines, and that they’re blocked from ever getting another temporary foreign worker, and that their temporary foreign workers could go to another organization, so that they’re not forced back. And that they put them on a list and publicize it — and if those organizations go under, that’s their problem as far as I’m concerned. You can’t be trying to cheat the government, and the employees as well.”

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