Temporary foreign workers, forced to flee due to the Fort McMurray fires, are now living in limbo as their status in Canada is directly tied to their job. Many are fearing deportation as advocates demand EI coverage and a loosening of the TFW visa requirements.
Photo Credit: AP / Gregory Bull

Temporary Foreign Worker program under review


Temporary foreign workers have kept many businesses going in Canada, but abuses of both the workers and the programs, over the years, have put the spotlight on government regulations.

The federal government is launching a review this week in an effort to make improvements for the workers, many of whom live in fear and suffer exploitation while here.

Four migrant workers testified at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) today, explaining the need for permanent immigration status, open work permits and comprehensive reforms.

The TFW program operates three different streams: one for those coming to work under the ‘Live-in Caregiver Program’, which, as it says, ususally means living in homes helping with either children or seniors. Then there are the “Temporary Foreign Workers” who can be employed in a variety of positions, from staffing fast-food restaurants, to working on construction sites, or in abbatoirs doing work it is judged Canadians don’t want to do. The third stream is for “Seasonal Agricultural Workers” who come annually from the Carribbean, Central America and Mexico, to pick fruits, vegetables and tobacco during the harvest.

A CBC investigation into the treatment of a seasonal agricultural worker from Jamaica, who had been coming to Canada to work for 12 years, revealed that more 800 migrant farm workers had been sent home in the last 10 years just in the province of Ontario alone. Many of them with medical conditions due to injuries sustained on the job in Canada.

“It’s worse than slavery… they dispose of them”

It’s classified as ‘medical repatriation’, and the family of Sheldon McKenzie, raised the issue after he died following a brain injury while harvesting tomatos in southern Ontario.

Unable to work following the injury, McKenzie lost his work visa and with it, the qualification for health-care coverage. His cousin, Marcia Barrett, hired lawyers to get him a humanitarian visa so he could continue getting the necessary medical care in Canada, care that would not be available in Jamaice. McKenzie had sugery to alleviate the swelling of the brain.

Barrett eventually succeeded in getting a temporary stay, but McKenzie died before a decision was made on the humanitarian visa.

“It’s worse than slavery… they dispose of them” Barrett told the CBC News investigative program, ‘Go Public’. None of this is news to Syed Hussan who works with the Coalition for Migrant Workers Canada. He says these employment abuses in Canada go back to the Chinese workers who built the railroads in the late 19th century.

“This is about a long-term exclusion of a particular group of people from basic rights,” Hussan says.


They’re not so much foreign but they’re migrant and their status is being denied to them

Chris Ramsaroop, a spokesperson with Justicia for Migrant Workers, describes the situation as a form of apatheid. “To be blunt, I consider this an apartheid system. Migrant workers live and work under a different set of legal rights and obligations than we do. We are not denied basic human rights, we are not denied health care. They are seen as disposable and temporary,” he said, in an interview with the CBC’s Rosa Marchitelli. 

In Ottawa, the standing committee on human resources, skills and social development and the status of persons with disabilities will examine changes to the TFWP made by the Conservative government in 2014 following a series of the CBC’s Go Public stories

This week, politicians will be looking at the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, which falls under the umbrella of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Meanwhile hundreds of TFW’s who fled the fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, are living in limbo as their work permits are tied to the jobs they left behind in the evacuation. If they are not working, they can be deported.

Syed Hussan is calling on the government to grant the TFW evacuees open work permits, allowing them to change jobs, at least in the short-term, and to extend Employment Insurance to them as well, as they don’t qualify under normal circumstances.

New penalties for employers who break the rules when hiring foreign workers come into force on Dec. 1. During boom times, Canada’s oil sector has been a major employer of temporary foreign workers. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

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6 comments on “Temporary Foreign Worker program under review
  1. Avatar FarmGal says:

    I have been working as a farm hand for the past ten years and I can tell you first hand that we, Canadian residents working on the farm, do not receive over time pay or days off on a set schedule, no paid holidays, barely any notice of our schedule; usually less than 8 hours notice, and we are watched by our employer to the point we have become paranoid and scared we will lose our jobs because we have been told for years that we can easily be replaced if we don’t like the changes on the farm and aren’t willing to do them. The other ‘male’ workers on the farm are paid almost double what we are paid. The men drive the tractors and we ‘women’ do the manual labour and work in the fields and supervise the foreign workers. The foreign workers often have terrible attitudes if crops aren’t good and we as supervisors have to listen to them swearing at us in patwa (Jamaican slang). There need to be laws put in place to also protect the local workers, we work extremely hard and do the same jobs as the foreign workers. Canadians did all the jobs that the foreign workers do now; it was just when everything expanded so much that the foreign workers were needed and hired!!

  2. Avatar Angry Canadian says:

    Well I have been applying for 7 months for Good management Senior Roles , in all Major banks in Canada, including well known organizations like Rogers

    Not 1 Single Interview and I have 15 Years in IT sector working both Canadian and US clients

    Every time I walk by the Roger place I see workers from India I go to Bank I see folks who look like they just came from India

    It is COMPLETE BS , these hiring companies don’t post details of who they hired.

    I need more transparency

  3. Avatar McCallum says:

    Whatabout putting a priority label on Nepalese residents who need to earn money to rebuild, what their government, with the billions in charity received, is not helping with, by any means. That TWP is perfect for them.
    Those people include Tibetans, treated as low cast and having received nothing.
    They are hard workers and are used to work in fields in their country.
    Since we were unable to ensure the donations would reach them, maybe it is our chance to put our money where the real need is.

  4. Avatar E. Brown says:

    Temporary workers are a necessity to farms in Canada. They pay into EI and do not get to draw from EI because they must return home within a certain time frame. Those who have been displaced because of the fires in Ft. McMurray definitely deserve to receive EI payments. My biggest issue is that temporary/seasonal farm workers are excluded from many of the benefits that other employees receive. No overtime, long hours, few amenities. They deserve to be in a safe and wholesome enivronment and be paid fairly for the work they do. Farm worker rules and regulations are archaic and need to be updated. It is shameful for a country such as ours to take advantage of temporary workers and not treat them fairly.

  5. Avatar Sterling says:

    The foreign worker program should be a total last resort but its being abused left and right by employers who have no interest in hiring Canadians.

    There should be a clear list of shortage occupations developed for each province ensuring that only those workers with critical skills are entering the Canadian labour market.

    Canadians who are long-term unemployed must be put into education programs so that they can get the skills needed to work or should have a limit on the number of months they can claim EI. If it is a single mother with children or a person who has some sort of illness, injury or handicap then being unemployed is totally excusable. But for those who are fit and well and able to work they should be able to perform a lot of the jobs which foreign workers have been taking such as working as food and beverage servers, cleaners, hotel front desk etc.

    The Canadian government should focus more on bring in high net worth individuals who will be launching businesses that will employ a certain number of Canadians by year 2 or 3. That would bring more economic benefit to Canada as well as create jobs.

  6. Avatar ConcernedOne says:

    Intra company transfer program is the other stream where so called employers or temp agencies bring in skilled tech workers and farm them out to banks, insurance companies, utility companies and even government. They treat these people like slaves. I have worked with a few, mostly from India.