Forced to Act, Conservatives Still Fail on Temporary Worker Program

June 20, 2014 – Long-promised changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) announced today fall short of protecting good jobs for Canadians and will leave low-wage workers in the same vulnerable position as before, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.

“We have long advocated for a complete overhaul of this broken program and the measures announced by Minister Kenney today fall short of fixing the mess he created,” said USW National Director Ken Neumann.

“We are pleased that our union’s work on this issue is forcing the government to act, but it is not making the meaningful improvements needed to fix this program once and for all,” Neumann said.

“The government plans to limit the numbers of low-wage workers, but hasn’t addressed the vulnerabilities those workers face,” he said. “Today’s announcements do nothing to free low-wage workers coming to Canada from being tied to one employer and make no mention of creating a path to citizenship for them.

“If treating 30,000 workers as indentured servants is wrong, cutting the number of workers in half doesn’t make it right. The program’s low-skilled stream should be eliminated and workers now in that stream should be freed from the grip of a single employer and given a path to citizenship. Harper is still saying to a group of workers that they are good enough to work here, but not good enough to stay here, and that’s wrong.”

Canadians should have no confidence in the enforcement measures announced today by the Conservative government, said Stephen Hunt, the USW’s Western Canada Director.

“We’ve heard the government say before that it would crack down on employers who abuse the program, but we’ve seen no evidence of funding and staffing for increased enforcement. Without a commitment of sufficient resources, enforcement measures are essentially toothless,” Hunt said.

“In fact, today this government has been exposed once again for its failure – if not outright incompetence – when it comes to enforcing the rules and protecting workers,” Hunt added.

Reports today confirm the government has yet to act on new powers it proclaimed last year to inspect workplaces to make sure employers were abiding by the TFWP’s rules.

“Now, on the very day they make new promises, we learn that this government has failed to inspect a single workplace employing temporary foreign workers – anywhere in Canada,” Hunt said.

“There are almost 400,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, but this government has not bothered to inspect even one workplace to see how workers are being treated and if the rules are being followed. That’s outrageous.”

The USW, which has campaigned for greater transparency within the TFWP, will hold the government to its pledge to publicize the names of employers that area authorized to hire temporary foreign workers.

“The government’s lack of openness and accountability has contributed to the many abuses under the program,” Neumann said. “We will continue to demand a more comprehensive, meaningful overhaul that is actually implemented.”

The USW first exposed how the TFWP was used to preclude Canadians from jobs at HD mining in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., and was the first organization to offer support to RBC employees who were asked to train foreign workers taking their jobs. The USW also has assisted temporary workers complaining of abuse by employers at Tim Hortons and Subway franchises in British Columbia.