What is the Temporary Foreign Worker program?
The TFW program is a route that allows Canadian employers to employ foreign workers for temporary positions when no qualified Canadians are available for the same job. The program is administered by the IRCC in partnership with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and requires employers to undertake Labour Market Impact Assessments with the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
This ensures that temporary foreign workers do not have a debilitating effect on Canada’s Labour market.
The program further breaks down workers into categories like high-wage or low-wage positions, Primary agriculture positions, Academics, Caregiver positions and the Global Talent Stream.
Concerns about the TFW program
Temporary foreign workers face hardships in Canada due to the nature of their stay, alienness to social customs, and ignorance of their rights and benefits. Their desire to provide and access more opportunities often makes them easy victims of exploitative practices and business.
According to an HRD Canada article, Labour exploitation is a common practice in Canada, with a majority unaware of what they are getting into, and at least 65% of the surveyed migrant workers claiming they were or knew people who were victims of trafficking in Canada.
Migrant Worker Exploitation in Canada
Despite their necessity and contribution to the Canadian economy, Migrant workers still find themselves at the bottom rung of society, living in unenviable conditions.
Some major challenges faced by migrant workers in Canada include:
- Being away from family
- Low wages
- Working without a permit
- Verbal abuse
- Lack of Healthcare
- Long work hours
- Poor housing conditions and
- Lack of permanent residency status
The UN report on the TFW program and exploitation of workers
Tomoya Obokata, a UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, found many issues with the state of Canada’s TFW program.
The press release expressed concerns for foreign workers in Employer-specific work permit programs, including the TFWP in Canada, who were enduring circumstances akin to contemporary forms of slavery.
Workers under these programs are very reliant on their employers for work permits and employment in Canada and are unlikely or unable to report abuses for fear of deportation.
The report also identified the vulnerable communities, including those already subjected to structural discrimination and violence like migrants, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, people of African descent, the homeless and the formerly incarcerated.
What has been done to address the conditions of migrant workers in Canada?
Canada has already taken some steps to address the conditions of foreign workers with some notable moves, including:
- Establishing the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE)- The CORE is a human rights watchdog reviewing and investigating suspected human rights abuses and violations committed by Canadian companies working outside Canada.
- Revising Canada’s Responsible Business Conduct Strategy and Code of Conduct for Procurement to reduce the risk of forced and child labour in Canadian Supply chains and
- Making amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (TFW)- These 2022 amendments made Temporary Foreign workers entitled to being informed about their rights in Canada on or before their first day of work. It also made it a must for employers to provide an employment agreement to the foreign worker and prohibits them from charging or recovering the following fees:
- Fees for services related to an LMIA
- Employer compliance fees
- Fees related to recruitment
Addressing the Human rights of workers
Tomoya Obokata observed that Canada can do more to enforce these measures and help alleviate the conditions of migrant workers in Canada.
He urged Canadian authorities to regularise the status of migrant workers and put an end to the closed work permit system. A pathway to permanent residency for all migrants was also suggested since the temporary and employer-specific nature of the TFW places migrant workers in a heavily disadvantaged position to their employers.
Other topics included the implementation of clear monitoring frameworks, protecting worker rights and tackling discrimination against foreign workers through legislation for the observation of mandatory human rights by Canadian companies and expanding the independence, powers and mandate of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE).