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Changes to foreign worker program angers labour

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)


FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

Proposed changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) fast-tracking applications for these workers and allowing employers to pay 15 per cent lower wages in certain circumstances is raising the ire of unions and labour groups in the country.

Under the federal government’s Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (A-LMO) Initiative, effective immediately, employers in all provinces except Quebec hiring TFWs in higher skilled positions such as management, professional and technical occupations will be offered flexibility to base wages paid to TFWs on what they pay Canadian and permanent resident employees. The changes have been included in Bill C-38, an omnibus bill making its way through Parliament.

To be deemed eligible for the initiative, employers must research and understand wages posted on the Working in Canada website (www.workingincanada.gc.ca) for the occupation they are requesting an A-LMO for, says a fact sheet from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

A wage of up to 15 per cent less than the posted wage will be accepted provided that the wage is the same wage paid to Canadian or permanent resident employees in the same occupation, the fact sheet says, adding that HRSDC will issue a negative A-LMO if the wage offered is more than 15 per cent below the posted one, and employers opting to pay reduced wages may be subjected to a compliance review.

“This new A-LMO Initiative introduces efficiency measures by reducing the amount of paper-burden on employers in the application process, and by introducing attestations for specific assessment criteria that can be reviewed through a subsequent compliance review,” says an HRSDC statement, noting that the initiative does not currently apply to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, and occupations in the film and entertainment sectors.

Employers  must  have  clean  compliance  record

Employers must also:

— have been issued at least one positive LMO in the previous two years;

— have a clean record of compliance with the TFWP within the last two years;

— not have been the subject of an investigation, infraction or a serious complaint; and,

— not have any unresolved violations or contraventions under provincial laws governing employment and recruitment.

Hassan Yussuff, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, says that the congress is urging the federal government to rethink their position on the TFWP. “Our argument is, first of all, in law, both provincial and federal law, you can’t treat foreign nationals differently than you treat Canadians,” Yussuff says.

“Employers have become addicted to this program,” he contends. “I think with these proposed changes, it will just exacerbate the problem for temporary foreign workers.”

Yussuff adds that changes will now allow the HRSDC to issue an opinion on an A-LMO in 10 business days, compared to the former 12-week timeframe.

“Rather than further skewing Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program to unfairly serve employers’ interests, what is needed are stronger compliance, monitoring and enforcement measures to protect migrant workers’ rights,” says Naveen Mehta, general counsel and director of human rights, equity and diversity with the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union, in a statement.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says that the TFWP should be scrapped entirely, calling it an “exploitative guest-worker program. If we need workers from abroad — and strong arguments can be made that we do — then we should bring them into the country as citizens or potential citizens,” he says. “As citizens, they would not be as vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as TFWs.”

“Even before these new changes, the [TFWP] had become a first choice rather than a tool of last resort for far too many employers,” McGowan says. “With fast-tracking and even lower wages for TFWs, the situation is just going to get worse, much worse.”