18 June 2007
Hon. Grant Mitchell rose pursuant to notice of May 2, 2007:
he will call the attention of the Senate to the need to review the
Temporary Foreign Workers program in order to ensure that it alleviates
the difficulties businesses have in circumstances of legitimate labour
shortage, without exploiting foreign workers or undermining Canadian
said: I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues this evening in
the Senate. I know it is late. I have waited a long time to have a
chance to speak to this item. I thank honourable senators for their
patience this evening. This is an important topic.
is a strong need to review the temporary foreign workers program in
order to ensure that it alleviates the difficulties that businesses
have in circumstances of legitimate labour shortage without exploiting
foreign workers or undermining Canadian labour.
purpose of the temporary foreign workers program is to address the
short-term labour shortages currently facing Canadian businesses and
industries, and to offer them the opportunity to recruit qualified
workers from outside Canada when not enough workers can be found within
are numerous problems with the program. The application process is
cumbersome for small businesses. Employees are sent back to their home
countries just as they are integrating into their communities and
workplaces. These workers are vulnerable to exploitation by
unscrupulous employers. Rules to ensure that the foreign workers meet
the same standards regarding wage rates and technical qualifications as
Canadian workers are not transparent and hard to enforce, and there are
few accountability mechanisms to ensure compliance once the workers
have arrived in Canada.
are over 150,000 temporary foreign workers living in Canada, and that
number is on the rise. In fact, in the first quarter of 2006, the
number of temporary foreign workers increased by 14 per cent compared
to the same period in 2005. In my home province of Alberta, that figure
rose by 41 per cent for the same period.
any circumstances, this kind of increase without a similar enhancement
of oversight and accountability mechanisms will have consequences.
someone contacted my office with a story that I fear is becoming
increasingly common. The individual came to Canada along with 13 other
candidates to work as pipefitters and welders for an Alberta company.
Under the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Labour Market
Opinion, the company was required to provide medical insurance, travel
to and from Canada, and accommodation.
the company indicated that it would pay for the airfare to Canada and
deduct the cost back through weekly payroll deductions, and the workers
would be responsible for the cost of their own accommodation, board and
transportation to and from the work site.
payroll slips, there are deductions for administration fees, permit
fees, an $800 advance recovery fee and a $360 travel fee. On one
paycheque, the gross earnings were $1,314 and the net pay was $243.41.
How can that be right?
make matters worse, within less than three months of their arrival in
Canada the company terminated all the temporary foreign workers. The
company says that it is for cause. They notified the employees that
they would be transported back to the airport for return to their home
country at their own expense.
the same time, I have worked with reputable business owners who want to
expand and contribute to our economic prosperity but are unable to
because they cannot find skilled workers. They are therefore waiting
indefinitely for applications by temporary foreign workers to be
have spoken to the owner of a northern Alberta trucking company, who
told me that his Labour Market Opinion was approved two years ago but
he cannot bring the workers in because immigration will not issue a
work permit to the potential foreign workers, citing the fact that they
are not qualified because they do not have an Alberta driver's licence.
How do they get one if they cannot come here?
have spoken to a small restaurant owner who has brought qualified chefs
from his home country, only to have them sent home after a year and
have his business suffer as a result as he struggles to find and train
new chefs in a difficult market.
have all heard the stories about the fast food restaurant that closes
the drive-through in the middle of the day because there are not any
staff, and the coffee shop that offers a $3,000 signing bonus.
Businesses are shutting their doors and not expanding because they
cannot find workers.
there is a problem here. First, should this problem be solved by means
of a temporary foreign worker program, or is this just a stopgap
measure? Canada's future international competitiveness and productivity
depend on our efforts to build our human capital.
need to act more intelligently, focus on research and development and
build an educated, skilled labour force. Insofar as temporary workers
invited into Canada can pass on their know-how to Canadian workers or
temporarily remedy a labour shortage in areas where the demand for
workers outstrips the supply, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is
in some areas, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program has worked
extremely well for a very long time. But the type of jobs that bring
foreign workers to Canada is changing. In 1996, 62 per cent of
temporary foreign workers came to Canada to fill jobs requiring
university, college or practical training. In 2005, that figure had
dropped to 50 per cent.
it in the interest of Canadian long-term productivity and of our social
fabric to use the temporary foreign workers program as a substitute for
a better thought out, long-term immigration and labour force plan? The
labour shortage in Alberta and other parts of the country is not likely
to abate in the near future, yet there is severe underemployment of
Aboriginal young people on the Prairies. We are consistently recruiting
skilled new Canadians as permanent immigrants who cannot find jobs in
their fields. In the future, more and more jobs will require a
university education, yet our post-secondary school enrolment figures
are not keeping up with our international competitors. The Conservative
government has cut programs for literacy and daycare, both of which
result in lower labour force participation rates.
program should not serve as a substitute for a long-term solution to
stimulate productivity in Canada and to enhance human potential in the
future. We must never allow the creation of a sub-class of workers who
are not citizens and who are exploited in Canada. We must never allow a
temporary program to become a permanent solution.
is the solution? Recent efforts to find solutions to the problems
identified with the temporary foreign workers program have focused
largely on the cumbersome nature of the program for businesses. For
example, a memorandum of understanding with the Province of Alberta
exempts the oil sands from the need for a Labour Market Opinion as long
as one company has determined that there is a need for workers in the
agreements have been reached with other provinces — for instance, the
Toronto construction industry, which has faced serious problems with
illegal migrant workers in the past. Recently, the government allowed
businesses to extend the terms of certain categories of workers to two
years instead of one.
these changes are welcome for legitimate businesses, the difficulty is
that there are few accountability mechanisms being put in place to
ensure that there is compliance. For example, with the lifting of the
requirement of a Labour Market Opinion in certain circumstances, after
a single company has been approved, there is a danger of a lowest
common denominator effect. A recent survey of half the building trades
unions in Alberta indicates — and this is surprising but true — that
there are currently at least 8,900 unemployed domestic skilled
journeyman building trades workers in Alberta, despite the intensity of
with evidence that some companies are not complying with the
requirements of their agreements, and the possibility that the
calculation of prevailing wage rates is being done in a way that could
be less than the predominant wage rates of the major unions in the
industry, it is possible that unscrupulous companies could bring in
temporary foreign workers, and maybe are doing so to avoid paying the
higher market-driven salaries.
potential remedy to this situation would be to have more transparency
in the way in which the prevailing wage rate is determined and to
require that the predominant union in that industry sign off on that
rate, as opposed to a single union in a single company. This is also an
example of the need for more accountability by the companies that
employ foreign workers.
certain inequalities are due to the very nature of the system. For
example, individuals who come to Canada under the live-in caregiver
immigration program can apply for permanent residency at the end of
their contract whereas temporary workers cannot. Why the difference
between these two categories of workers?
a 2005 case was before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which has
since been withdrawn, regarding mandatory payroll deductions for
employment insurance. Is it fair that temporary foreign workers should
be required to pay into employment insurance when there is no
possibility they could ever benefit from the program?
think that the most pressing change we need to see is better
accountability measures, especially following the approval of temporary
work permits and the arrival of the workers in Canada.
Human Resources Canada approval has been obtained, and once immigration
services have let foreign workers in and given them their permits, the
Department of Human Resources does very little follow-up. Applying
labour standards is left up to provincial authorities. The standards
vary from place to place, and in some cases, the criteria that apply to
foreign workers differ from those that apply to Canadian workers.
its ruling that condemned discrimination against non-citizens, the
Supreme Court also found that a person's job is not protected under
anti-discrimination laws. As such, laws that authorize poorer working
conditions for foreign workers than for their Canadian counterparts are
unlikely to be found unconstitutional in Canada, even with respect to
access to benefits. For example, Alberta's Employment Standards Code
does not guarantee that most of the minimum working conditions or the
Occupational Health and Safety Act provisions will apply to foreign
agricultural workers. Temporary foreign workers are often ineligible
for workplace accident benefits, and the guaranteed return to work
applies only to those who had been in the job for 12 months at the time
of the accident. To be eligible for Canada or Quebec Pension Plan
benefits, a foreign worker must have held a job in Canada for at least
four of the previous six years. Once again, a foreign worker injured on
the job is not eligible for benefits.
almost all provinces, mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the terms
and conditions of the temporary foreign works program tend to be
complaints-based rather than random audits. Due to the nature of the
employer-employee relationship, it is unlikely that a temporary foreign
worker will lodge a complaint. First, the worker's status in Canada is
dependent upon maintaining their employment with that employer. Lack of
language skills, fear of being returned to the country of origin and
uncertain status in Canada tend to prevent workers from speaking out.
As a result, the program can be used by some unscrupulous employers to
obtain cheap foreign labour and avoid paying fair wages and benefits
for skilled Canadian labour. The story I began my speech with
illustrates how difficult it is for workers to come forward. This
demonstrates the need for a pro-active audit process.
needs to be a process of audits of companies that employ temporary
foreign workers, perhaps random audits, to ensure compliance with the
terms and conditions of the HRSDC Labour Market Opinions and also with
provincial employment standards. We need to implement some form of
whistle-blower protection, not just for the foreign workers but also
for the colleagues and the companies in which they work so that there
is no fear of reprisal for those who come forward to report abuse.
Finally, there must be penalties for companies that fail to comply,
including both financial penalties and a ban on the use of more
temporary foreign workers for a specified period of time.
with this kind of accountability mechanism in place can we ensure the
protection of the rights of the workers who come to Canada with full
expectation that their contracts will be honoured and protection of the
honest businesses that rely on temporary foreign workers.
we have to study the long-term effects of the current trends on labour
needs in Canada, in order to valorize Canada's human potential in the
future. The temporary foreign workers program should complement, not
replace, Canada's immigration and skills development programs. This
type of program has to be firmly anchored in the Canadian values of
economic prosperity and social justice