Proposed new rules permitting greater labour mobility for temporary foreign workers a step in the right direction

AFL calls on the federal government to reject pleas from employer groups looking to water down protections for temporary foreign workers

EDMONTON – On the advice of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Person with Disabilities, the Government of Canada has proposed to amend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to allow occupation-specific permits instead of solely employer-specific permits.

Under the existing system of employer-specific permits, temporary foreign workers are restricted to working solely for one employer. This restriction creates a massive power imbalance that has led to the abuse of vulnerable temporary foreign workers. Many workers are afraid to stand up to abusive employers because their status as a worker in Canada is attached to their employer-specific permit. Abuses like work with no pay, work outside the employment contract, no overtime pay, along with physical, verbal and sexual abuse.

“If you work in Canada, you have the right to labour mobility,” said AFL president Gil McGowan. “Employer-specific permits rob the rights of workers in Canada and expose migrant workers to abuse.”

Beyond exposing migrant workers to abuse, employer-specific permits also have an indirect impact on wages across economy by forcing temporary foreign workers to work for often below market wages. The lack of mobility for migrant workers also means that they will always act as a drag on wages generally because it stops wages from increasing naturally in times of labour shortages.

“The employer-specific permits are popular with employers who want to maintain their access to low-wage labour,” said McGowan, “the Temporary Foreign Worker Program should not be a subsidy program for these employers.”

Occupation-specific permits would allow a temporary foreign worker the right to mobility within a certain occupation, allowing them to switch employers like any other worker in Canada. While other problems continue to exist with Canada’s migrant labour programs, this step would go a long way to mitigating the abuse of temporary foreign workers.

Unsurprisingly, various employer lobby groups have lobbied to maintain employer-specific permits. In a submission from the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) regarding occupation-specific work permits under the Temporary Foreign Work Program, the AHLA suggested job mobility for migrant workers would punish good employers.

“Multiple reviews and reforms of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program have established that this program needs to maintain higher standards and protect migrant workers from abuse,” said McGowan, “the federal government needs to reject pleas from employer groups who have built their business models around access to low-wage migrant labour.”

 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Ramona Franson

Director of Communications

rfranson@afl.org