There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding the issue of temporary foreign workers (TFWs). The infamous Royal Bank of Canada instance last April when Canadian employees were to train foreign workers to take their jobs, BC coal mine 200 foreign workers hiring process and numerous cases of abuse of the rights of foreign workers in Canada all have shown an urgent need for changes to the program in terms of protection of rights of Canadian employees as well as the vulnerable foreign workers.
Canada has a number of programs that allows employers to bring in low-skilled temporary workers such as caregivers and seasonal workers. There is also a 10-year-old pilot project that allows workers from more diverse sectors, such as agriculture, restaurants, food processing, cleaning, construction and others, to receive work permit visas. The pilot project group of workers is the fastest growing group, rising 22-fold. Despite ongoing issues with the program and the rights relating to fair treatment of TFW and growing unemployment rate, especially among youth in Canada, the number of migrant workers tripled in the past decade.
Problematic issues of the above program have been highlighted by numerous articles dealing with work conditions and treatment of the foreign workers in Canada. An article by The Toronto Star “Abuse of migrant workers “endemic” in Canada, new study says” draws attention to the complex issues stemming from lack of protective laws for this group of workers. The article brought out reasonable steps that have been taken by some provinces, such as Manitoba, towards resolving some of the issues. Nonetheless, the problem is country-wide and requires attention on a much larger scale. A new report by the Metcalf Foundation states that, “The exploitation is not isolated and anecdotal. It is endemic. It is systemic”. According to the research of Osgoode Law School Professor Fay Faraday, low-skilled migrant workers are particularly vulnerable because they have no access to permanent residency and there is little program oversight by both Canada and their countries of origin. The Video of Metcalf Foundation – Made in Canada explains some of the issues Canada faces with respect to legal protection of the foreign workers and shortcomings of the program in general.
As highlighted in another article on the subject by Global News, very few foreign workers are willing to stand up against unfair practices, humiliation and abuse due to fear of the consequences. Fortunately, with the help of Canadian legal and non-for-profit organizations as well as media coverage, significant attention has been drawn to this issue, bringing awareness and hopefully positive changes in the work environment and treatment of these individuals brought into Canada by employers who must take responsibility and provide a safe and fair working environment. Some of these individuals have taken further steps in ensuring the precedent is set, such as Mr. Monrose challenging the system and pursuing the employer for the humiliating treatment he suffered while on an extended employment assignment in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. CBC News – “Migrant worker in Leamington awarded $23K in damages”; National Post – “Ontario’s human rights tribunal fines Double Diamond Acres for calling workers ‘monkeys’”.
The issue of breach of contract and provincial laws are covered in yet another article by The Toronto Star “Denny’s restaurants settles foreign workers’ suit for $1.4 million”. A one of its kind class action in Canada was brought by a group of workers of Denny’s restaurants in BC and received an outstanding award in a judgment released on May 19, 2013 that finalized a 2-year battle by 77 foreign workers from Philippines initially brought under the federal TFWP in early 2006. These workers were granted class action certification in March of 2012 which made it possible for the lawyer to act on behalf of the group of individuals that would otherwise not have fought against the systematic abuse of their rights. Of the 77 workers, 19 dropped out before the case settled, but were still included in the settlement by the judge who realized the reasons for their reluctance to continue.
Lessons for Employees
These and other cases bring much needed public attention to this important issue and show that Canadian principles of human rights are being upheld in courts and tribunals. It is also refreshing to see the government recognizing the need for changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to reflect its very purpose, which is to support the Canadian economy while providing fair opportunity and protection to both Canadian and Foreign employees. These cases also highlight the need for employees to seek legal protection that is available through various legal and non-for-profit organizations as well as challenging the system that at times is outdated or taken advantage of by employers looking for loopholes.
Lessons for Employers
Employers are reminded to use the programs available to them with the primary purpose of these in mind, which is the support of the Canadian employment market and economy while ensuring fair employment practices. Employers using loopholes in the program will inevitably be faced with legal battles and costs, not to mention bad publicity that tarnishes the employer’s reputation. To ensure proper compliance with the laws, prevention is the best course of action. Teaming up with a trusted specialized legal professional team is critical in preventing costly legal disasters.
Minken Employment Lawyers is your Canadian source for expert Employment Law advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. Whether you are an employer or employee, we can help. Contact us to see how.
See also our blog article, “Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the Spotlight”.