Manitoba boosts protection for foreign workers

New recruitment legislation requires registration, licensing
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/03/2009

Manitoba’s new legislation governing the recruitment of foreign workers is a “bold step” and a “much better mousetrap” that should be adopted across the country, according to the chair of a national advocacy group for immigrants.

“It’s basically equalizing the playing field,” said Imran Qayyum, chair of the Toronto-based Canadian Migration Institute. “The biggest problem has been people working outside the system. What Manitoba has done, in essence, is shut that door down.”

The Worker Recruitment and Protection Act came into effect April 1 and requires all employers keen to recruit temporary foreign workers to register with the government’s employment standards division and include proof of this registration with applications for a Labour Market Opinion to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Recruiters and employers will not be allowed to receive or collect fees from workers they assist in finding employment and must submit detailed records about the place of employment, up-to-date contact information and the workers’ duties and rate of pay.

Much of the impetus for the legislation is to eliminate “ghost” recruiters who work outside the system and, more often than not, are involved with instances of abuse, said Qayyum. The new rules will protect employers from ill-suited employees and protect the employees themselves. Many people, especially low-skilled immigrants and their families, are desperate to come to Canada and are willing to pay recruiters exorbitant fees for a job that, ultimately, might not come through.

“The whole idea is, in one sense, providing protection within Canada and, in the other, educating that employee… to make an informed decision,” he said.

Overall, the act enhances the integrity and reputation of the foreign worker recruitment process while bolstering an employer’s corporate social responsibility principles and practices — a developing trend in Canadian corporate governance best practices — by using licensed recruiters to find workers, said Qayyum.

Since employers will no longer be allowed to charge foreign workers for job placements, or take deductions from their salaries, they may face additional costs, though these should be considered an investment in the labour force, he said.

“In the long term, they’re going to get a better quality employee,” he said. “Often an employee would want to stay with the same employer so it’s an investment they’re making in the long-term future.”

With the new rules, a recruiter can only work for and be paid by an employer, said David Dyson, executive director of Manitoba’s employment standards division. If an employer has been recruiting foreign workers and never paid a dime, there will be increased fees.

“They should not be a cheap source of labour, a cheap alternative to domestic labour,” he said.

Employers will also face more regulations and, consequently, more paperwork, said Stan Raper, Toronto-based national co-ordinator, agricultural workers, at United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.

“We’ve made it a little too easy for employers to get workers from anywhere in the world without any regulation or monitoring or enforcement,” he said. “Filling out a couple of forms is not going to cause too much problems, especially in the economic situation we’re in right now.”

With about 250,000 immigrants coming into Canada each year, the foreign worker programs have been lacking for a long time, said Raper.

“They’re basically at the employer’s whim, there’s no quotas, (employers) can bring in as many as they want,” he said. “Because of language barriers, because we’re not sure where these people are from and what they’re doing, we often wonder what happened to them, where are they — that’s a lot of people to let loose.”

Toronto alone has about 1,200 unlicensed brokers, said Raper, and Manitoba’s legislation will require recruiters to put down a $10,000 deposit to ensure, if there are problems, those funds can be directed to the people affected.

An employer that uses a licensed recruiter will not bear any liability in terms of any bad activities, while an employer that directly recruits is at greater risk, said Dyson.

“We certainly do know we’re changing the business model for the recruiter industry.”

But in consultations for the legislation, chambers of commerce and employers were very supportive, said Dyson. Recruiters might charge an employer anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a migrant worker, while workers could be charged from $10,000 to $60,000.

“The employers are just as much duped by unscrupulous recruiters as the workers,” he said. “We came to the conclusion most problems are because the recruiters are not working for the client.”

The greater enforcement will include an investigation unit with six officers devoted to ensuring compliance with the legislation, information-sharing agreements with government departments and proactively checking with workers to ensure all is above-board, said Dyson.

While some provinces have legislation around recruitment, Manitoba is unique in asking employers to register well before the whole process starts and designating those who can be licensed, said Qayyum.

“We see these abuses in Ontario and recommend (the government) look at the Manitoba model as a potential solution,” he said. “This not only affects the province’s reputation but Canada’s reputation in the international global market.”

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