(Canadian OH&S News) — The federal Minister of Employment and Social Development, Jason Kenney, has imposed an immediate moratorium on Canada’s food services sector’s access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Groups representing migrant workers immediately decried the move, which followed public allegations of abuse of the TFWP at McDonald’s restaurants in British Columbia.
Kenney announced the moratorium on April 24, saying that Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) would not process any new or pending Labour Market Opinion (LMO) applications related to the food services sector and that any unfilled positions tied to a previously-approved LMO would be suspended. Employers who have submitted applications and paid the processing fee, but have not yet received an LMO, will be refunded the full processing fee.
“Our government has been clear: Canadians must have the first chance at available jobs,” Kenney said in a statement. “We have repeatedly warned employers that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program must only be used as a last and limited resort when Canadians are not available.”
Kenney said that when he was made aware of some serious allegations of abuse of the TFWP, including those from Canadians through Service Canada’s confidential tip line, he directed officials to investigate, suspended LMOs and placed employers in question on a public blacklist.
“Despite these actions, there remain serious concerns regarding the use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the food services sector,” he said in the statement. “Those employers who are found to have lied about their efforts to hire Canadians could face potential criminal prosecution, with sanctions that include fines and jail time.”
But advocacy group Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) said that while the federal government had responded to the abuse of the program by employers, it had not considered the effects the moratorium would have on foreign workers. “J4MW believes the moratorium will leave migrant workers in a more precarious position,” the group said in a press release, citing workers who were already employed in the restaurant sector and had filed complaints about workplace violations or those whose contracts were about to expire, among others.
“Without larger structural changes to protect migrant workers, this decision will have far-reaching, negative consequences on migrant workers across Canada,” the press release said. “Open work permits, strengthened anti-reprisal measures [and] proactive enforcement of workplace rights are the immediate starting points of necessary reforms, not denying people the ability to work. Steps should be taken to increase standards for all workers, so that migrant and Canadian workers are not pitted against one another.”
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest coalition of migrant worker groups and allies, has called for immediate changes to the moratorium, saying in a statement that such a move was not the solution. The alliance has called for the federal government to process pending and in-country LMOs and work permit applications for migrant workers and to develop a just transition method into permanent residency for migrants already in Canada, along with future immigrants in the low-wage, “low-skilled” sectors.
“A moratorium on TFWs is the wrong way to go,” said Chris Ramsaroop, a migrant worker advocate at J4MW. “Migrant workers in Canada awaiting a decision on their LMOs and work permits will suffer immensely. Those trying to leave abusive employers will be locked in.”
MWAC spokesperson Syed Hussan said that part of the solution was to change laws that pit migrant workers against unemployed or under-employed citizens. “In the long run, we need to return to an immigration system that gives access to permanent status to migrants in low-skilled industries.”
According to information from ESDC, three restaurants in Canada had their LMOs revoked or suspended in April. The Boathouse Restaurant in Fenelon Falls, Ont. had its licence revoked for providing false, misleading or inaccurate information regarding its LMO; Jungle Jim’s Restaurant/Greco Pizza/Captain Sub in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador and McDonald’s restaurants in Victoria, B.C. had their LMOs suspended after being suspected of having provided false LMO information.