Senate calls for end to employer-specific work permits

'The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not working well for employers or workers'

Senate calls for end to employer-specific work permits

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program is facing numerous problems that are causing hardship for both employers and workers, according to a Senate committee.

In a report, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology noted that the program “is not working well for employers or workers”.

“The employer-specific work permit inherently makes migrant workers more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of bad actors as well as imposing structural barriers to accessing rights and protections,” it says. “For well-intentioned employers, the employer-specific work permit limits their flexibility to move workers where needed, to provide higher-skilled employment and to recognize good work and long service through promotions.”

Another problem is that neither workers nor employers know who to turn to for information or support due to the involvement of multiple federal departments, in addition to various provincial, municipal and community actors.

The Senate also notes that “immigration and migrant labour policy has often been reactive rather than strategic”, and employers are frustrated by “duplicative inspections that are not coordinated between governments or departments”.

Also, women and gender-diverse migrant workers are “particularly vulnerable to instances of sexual and physical violence in the workplace, and often face inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health care,” says the Senate committee.

In September 2023, Tomoya Obokata, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said that “employer-specific work permit regimes”, including the TFW Program, make migrant workers “vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery”. Stefan Larrass, senior policy advisor, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, later told HRD that that comment was “completely inappropriate”

Senate committee recommendations on TFW

To address the problems with the TFW Program, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology recommends that Ottawa:

  • establish an adequately funded tripartite Migrant Work Commission, modelled after the Canada Employment Insurance Commission that would include a Commissioner for Migrant Workers, a Commissioner for Employers and representation from the Government of Canada, through Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
  • establish and implement a plan to phase out employer-specific work permits within three years
  • provide more transparent pre- and on-arrival information about transitioning from temporary work permits to permanent residence
  • conduct unannounced inspections as the standard
  • provide more pre- and on-arrival information about migrant workers’ rights to access health care, including what the employer is required to provide, how to access interim private health insurance, if required, and how to apply for provincial or territorial coverage
  • coordinate a data strategy across federal departments and with provinces and territories to promote more information sharing and best practices.

‘Balanced’ recommendations for temporary workers

Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers commended the Senate committee for its “balanced recommendations into solutions for temporary and migrant labour in Canada”.

“The proposed commission with centralized services is in line with what fruit and vegetable growers have long been asking for – the creation of a one-stop shop for more efficient delivery of TFW services for both employers and workers,” says Bill George, grape grower and chair of the Labour Committee at the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA). 

“Mistreatment of workers is unacceptable and as an industry, we have long been committed to the continuous improvement of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs to ensure all workers have the opportunity for a positive, safe work experience while in Canada.”

The federal government found nearly 200 Canadian employers to be non-compliant to the rules of the TFW Program in 2023.

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