On June 20th, Employment Minister Jason Kenney introduced a series of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. These changes include:
- Reducing the length of time workers can stay in Canada
- Reducing the number of migrant workers who will be approved to work in Canada by limiting the total number of migrant workers in each workplace
- Replacing the the previous food services moratorium with a new ban. In areas with high unemployment (over 6%), migrant workers with the lowest skill levels and wages will be banned in food services, accommodation and retail trade sectors
- Bringing in a new process to apply for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO), which will now be called a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and raising the cost for employers from $275 to $1,000
- Increasing inspections of businesses hiring migrant workers (by Employment and Social Development Canada) and introducing higher monetary fines for violations
- Replacing National Occupational Classification as the mechanism for classifying migrant worker jobs with wage levels. Wages below the provincial median wage will now be considered low-wage jobs.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (of which WAC is a member) immediately spoke out about these changes, writing that they will result in a mass deportation order for workers and will lock-in workers with bad employers.
Many workers we hear from at WAC describe how being tied to one employer means that they do not feel they can speak out about violations of their rights at work. These changes do nothing to address that fear, and in fact will make it even more difficult for workers to speak out because switching jobs when there is a problem will now be even harder.
As MWAC notes, higher fees will be downloaded to workers as as there is no national recruiter regulation framework. We have been fighting for protections against recruitment fees for all migrant workers in Ontario, but the majority of migrant workers currently have no protection at all. These changes leave workers in an even more vulnerable situation when it comes to recruiter and employer abuses around fees.
When Jason Kenney talks about stepping up enforcement of employers to find violations, he is not speaking about workers rights. Instead inspectors will be looking at whether employers are complying with the federal program requirements. Employment standards are enforced at a provincial level and we know there is very little capacity to do proactive enforcement. In Ontario there are 20 inspectors to do inspections in over 370,000 workplaces. If there is no ability for workers to speak up and no mechanism for employers to be effectively monitored, increased fines and transparency are meaningless. Furthermore, many provincial laws exclude workers from protections and social entitlements on the basis of occupation and citizenship.
Instead of taking steps to address the fundamental problems with the migrant worker program we are concerned that these changes further entrench a revolving door of cheap, flexible temporary workers who are tied to one employer and who cannot exert their rights.
“Kenney confirmed today that migrants make up a small proportion of the labour force. The issue isn’t migrants taking jobs from citizen workers, its migrant workers being exploited and abused. That’s what migrant workers and their allies have raised for over a decade. Its obvious that the Federal government refused to listen to the voices of migrant workers.”
– Winston Morrison – Migrant Worker and Member of Justicia for Migrant Workers, Member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
We know that many workers across Ontario are struggling with the lack of good jobs and poverty-level wages. However, the government’s solution of placing the blame on racialized migrant workers and making conditions more precarious is not going to address that. We need concrete policies to create good jobs, raise the minimum wage above the poverty line and improve employment standards and we need to ensure that everyone who comes to Canada to work can access the same rights and protections. That means coming to Canada with status and not as temporary, flexible labour.