Protecting Temporary Foreign Workers

Backgrounder

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is working to rebuild the TFW compliance regime to help better protect temporary foreign workers (TFWs), taking into account the Auditor General’s recommendations and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ongoing activities to strengthen ESDC’s risk-based approach to target higher risk employers include:

  • Enhancing TFW inspection tools and mandatory training to strengthen the quality and timeliness of inspections.
  • Continuing to leverage its tip line service, allowing workers to flag any situation of abuse or misuse of the program in a confidential manner.
  • Continuing to raise employers’ awareness of their obligations to foster compliance with the TFW Program’s conditions.
    • In 2021, to raise employer awareness of their obligations, the Department conducted 11 sessions reaching over 1,100 attendees, employers and employer associations representing over 200,000 employers, including joint sessions with Ontario and Quebec. 

 EMPLOYER COMPLIANCE INSPECTIONS

The TFW Program’s compliance regime has been evolving since 2011. In 2013, changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) gave ESDC the authority to conduct employer inspections to verify that they meet Program conditions. In 2015, further changes established consequences for violation(s) of program conditions. Following recommendations from both the Office of the Auditor General and Parliament, ESDC began conducting unannounced on-site inspections in 2018 as part of its continued efforts to strengthen the compliance regime.

In 2020-2021, ESDC put in place measures to conduct an additional 3,000 inspections, introduced new supports for inspectors, including new guidance and training sessions, and implemented IT system changes to support timely inspections.

In April 2020, the Government made changes to the IRPR to hold employers accountable if they put workers’ safety at risk, with a range of administrative monetary penalties of up to $1 million and a potential lifetime ban from hiring TFWs.

ESDC has taken steps to improve the quality and timeliness of inspections and reduced its backlogs. In 2020, ESDC doubled its inspection workforce from about 100 to 200 inspectors.

In July 2020, the Government announced $58.6 million to strengthen the TFW Program and make further investments to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19. This included $16.2 million to strengthen the employer inspections regime, particularly on farms, and make improvements to how tips and allegations of employer non-compliance are addressed.

In February 2021, ESDC and partners across the Government of Canada continued their work to ensure the health and safety of TFWs and Canadians, while supporting the entry of the TFWs into the country. With border restrictions in place, the Government worked with partners to gain better access to provincial and public health outbreak information. Specifically, to support the continued arrival, inspections and the health and safety of TFWs entering the country, the Government:

  • developed and implemented an inspection protocol to manage COVID-19 outbreaks among TFWs. Using information from provincial/territorial and municipal governments, the mandate of inspectors was to identify possible instances of employer non-compliance that require follow-up or immediate action;
  • worked with stakeholders such as employers, migrant worker associations, source countries, provincial and local authorities, and through direct funding to migrant worker support organizations to provide on-arrival airport orientation and referral services, community-based supports, and emergency supports;
  • worked with provinces and territories to establish and secure the authorization to land chartered flights from TFW Program source countries;
  • Developed alternate testing protocols for use by provinces accepting chartered flights;
  • Helped to facilitate public health measures, the review of quarantine plans and the administration of on-arrival tests;
  • Served a critical role as an intermediary with contracted testing providers in the escalation of stakeholder concerns regarding the administration of the COVID-19 Day 8/10 tests; and
  • Worked with provincial/territorial partners to support the voluntary vaccination of TFWs upon arrival, and for those already located at their place of employment.

High quality inspections remain a priority to help protect TFWs from abuse and exploitation. Throughout the pandemic, ESDC has continuously adapted to changing public health directives and crisis conditions.

In mid-February 2021, ESDC also designed and launched an internal quality review function to verify the quality of documentation collected to ensure that inspection decisions were well supported to identify where further actions are needed to improve the quality of inspections.

In March 2021, the Department also implemented a redesigned tip line with the worker in mind to make it easier and more accessible to report allegations of abuse or mistreatment. This included a modified call centre with live agents, with access to over 200 languages, as well as simplifying the online reporting forms. These improvements mean better capacity to triage high-risk tips within 48 to 72 hours.

In July 2021, several months following the initial launch of the quality review, the Department evaluated the progress and expanded the reach of the quality review function, to monitor cases throughout the inspection process versus at the end of it, just before completion. This allows for real-time training and improvements earlier in the inspection process, and provides ongoing support to inspection staff throughout the inspection. The Department has since seen an improvement in the quality of its inspections where 81% of the files verified were found to be of quality.

During the same month, the Government published proposed regulations in the Canada Gazette Part 1. The proposed regulations will aim to increase the Government’s ability to prevent bad actors from participating in the Program, strengthen its ability to effectively conduct inspections and apply penalties for non-compliance, and directly improve the protection of vulnerable TFWs.

Finally, in July 2021, ESDC also reviewed its strategies to address workload and quality of inspections, and implemented a risk-based approach.

STRENGTHENED PARTNERSHIPS

ESDC continues to work with partners to deliver the TFW Program and conduct employer compliance inspections.

Provinces/territories

ESDC has established relationships with all provinces and territories, including key local health and safety authorities across Canada, sharing information where possible and working collaboratively on inspections where warranted. A total of nine agreements are currently established with provincial authorities for the sharing of data specific to employer compliance inspections or information related to violations pertaining to COVID-19 requirements. ESDC will continue to ensure that protocols are in place to exchange information when an employer is suspected or found to be preventing a temporary foreign worker from complying with applicable COVID-19-related provincial and territorial laws.

Additionally, we have formalized relationships with certain local public health authorities, including in Quebec and in Ontario, where quarantine inspections and outbreaks were predominant.

Migrant support organizations

As announced in Budget 2021, the Department is preparing to implement the new Migrant Worker Support Program, which commits $49.5 million over three years to support community organizations in the provision of migrant worker-centric programs and services. Currently, six non-profit organizations across Canada are funded to support migrant workers by providing on-arrival airport services, community-based supports and emergency supports. Airport services are in place at the Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal airports. To date, airport services have been provided to over 52,000 TFWs.

International stakeholders

ESDC works closely with the consulates of TFW Program participating countries in an effort to provide enhanced support to TFWs. These relationships not only help to strengthen the employer compliance inspection regime, but also allows ESDC to reach out to organizations that are trusted and familiar to TFWs to provide them with the confidence that their wellbeing is a priority. For example, in a situation of a natural disaster or COVID-19 outbreak, the Department would work with the consulate to ensure that TFWs are aware of local resources that are available to them. Additionally, tips from consulates have helped launch new inspections or contributed useful information to ongoing ones. Information shared by consulates has helped the department to focus on higher risk employers.

  • To raise awareness about TFW rights and mechanisms available to flag concerns, seven sessions were conducted with consulates, migrant support organizations and the interdepartmental human trafficking working group.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Employers who participate in the TFW Program and are required to provide accommodations to their TFWs must provide a Housing Inspection Report (HIR) from their jurisdiction as part of their application. Provinces and territories establish these housing standards.

The federal government is committed to working with provinces and territories to improve housing conditions for TFWs, within its jurisdiction. The Department released aWhat We Heard’ report on December 1, 2021, which summarizes input received during consultations on employer-provided accommodations in the agriculture sector under the TFW Program. A broad cross-section of stakeholders, including provincial-territorial governments, municipalities, fire chiefs, public health units, employers, industry associations, unions/labour groups and foreign governments contributed over 150 submissions. As a part of this consultation process, ESDC also engaged with migrant worker support organizations (MWSOs) and encouraged them to canvas TFWs for their input. The views of approximately 675 migrant workers were represented in submissions made by MWSOs.

The ’What We Heard’ report highlights a diversity of views on employer-provided accommodations. It also demonstrates the complexity of the issue, given the multiple jurisdictions, different types of housing provided, and time required to make changes to existing infrastructure. The report’s findings will inform proposed improvements to the TFW Program to address situations of unsafe and unsuitable employer-provided living conditions. Key areas of focus will include the availability of potable water and clean air, overcrowding, and the proximity of living quarters to hazardous material. The proposed improvements will also create clear and consistent requirements for employers that apply to the Program so that they fully understand their obligations and can better adhere to them. 

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