New report says conditions for temporary foreign workers worsened with 2014 reforms
For years before the 2014 changes to the TFWP, activists sought to draw attention to the exploitation of low-skilled migrant workers, whose jobs range from serving coffee in the oilsands to working on poultry farms in Ontario. They said that the conditions of the program, such as work permits that tied their right to work in Canada to a specific workplace, leave them vulnerable to abuse. With many of them sending remittances home to developing countries or having paid thousands to come to Canada, migrant workers are desperate to keep their jobs.
Faraday said the shaky position of migrant workers is highlighted by those fleeing the Fort McMurray fire — TFWs whose workplace burned down or won’t re-open can’t work anywhere else in Canada and may be forced to go home.
Changes that came into effect from 2014 onwards simply worsened the situation by making migrant workers’ jobs more precarious, said Faraday. These included a rule limiting most TFWs to a maximum of four years of working in Canada and caps on how many TFWs employers could hire.
It’s a situation Mark Holthe, a Lethbridge immigration lawyer who has a blog about the issue, knows too well. Migrant workers have come to his office complaining of many types of abuse, including long hours without overtime pay and being forced to return a portion of their salary back to employers in cash.
“If they were in a position with a bad employer who was exploiting them, they would feel even more forced to stay because there were less alternatives available for them,” he said, noting the situation has worsened in Alberta since 2014.
Desperate to keep their jobs, few let Holthe pursue legal action. He said they also do whatever is needed to win their employer’s favour, such as taking on greater responsibility without the corresponding increase in pay.
Limits on how many TFWs companies can hire had a particularly negative effect, especially within the food service industry, Holthe added.
“They would create this derby between employees as to who was going to be the most valuable to get that magical LMIA extension because they could only extend up to the cap.”
Faraday said that exploitative employers and recruiters also put workers on the hook for the cost of Labour Market Impact Assessments, priced at $1,000 starting in 2014, that employers had to obtain to prove no qualified Canadians were available for a job they were giving to foreigners.
Meanwhile, the position of workers became shakier because the government started giving them work permits with a maximum duration of one year, said Faraday.
“Workers have to constantly renew their work permits during that short four-year window they can be in the country,” she explained. “And that creates incredibly insecurity because a worker is constantly fighting to retain their job, to retain favour with their employer.”
More than 117,000 people held valid temporary foreign worker permits in 2014.
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