Temporary Foreign Worker program must be changed, workers say

Temporary Foreign Worker program must be changed, workers say

Advocates and foreign workers say they face exploitation at the hands of employers, language barriers, and little chance to improve their lot

Migrant farm workers in strawberry fields. (Mark Miller/Getty Images)

Migrant farm workers in strawberry fields. (Mark Miller/Getty Images)

MONTREAL — Henry Aguirre, a temporary foreign worker from Guatemala, considered himself lucky when he got a job in Quebec as a chicken catcher, rounding up poultry and handing them over for processing.

Aguirre, 27, said he was quickly disillusioned when he learned the job paid him by volume instead of full-time, with no pay for time spent travelling from farm to farm.

He said he and his fellow Guatemalan workers had signed job offers they didn’t understand since they were all written in French.

“We didn’t understand the work permit; if we had, we wouldn’t have signed,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview.

Aguirre was one of a group of foreign workers and activists who attended a small demonstration outside Montreal’s St Joseph’s Oratory earlier this month to call for changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.

Among other things, they are calling for an end to the practice of issuing closed work permits, which restricts a worker to a single employer.

Viviana Medina, a community organizer who attended the protest, said closed work permits, language barriers and a fear of losing their jobs means many workers are reluctant to file complaints against their employers.

“The moment they say something, they’ll be sent back,” she said. “They have to stay in these conditions because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”

A study from the Université du Québec published earlier this month found that many Guatemalan migrant workers in the province are charged recruitment fees in their home countries, despite such practices being prohibited.

The study, which is based on interviews conducted between June and November 2015, found some workers even ended up using the deeds to their homes as a guarantee they’d pay back the money they owed for recruitment fees, according to the spokesman for a union that helped with the study.

“The precarity that brings really makes it difficult for a worker to ever take a stand and complain about the working or living conditions or abuses in the workplace or lack of getting the things that were guaranteed to them,” said Pablo Godoy of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The federal government says it acknowledges the need for action and has taken a number of steps to reduce exploitation and abuse of temporary workers.

“Changes include increased inspections, improved information sharing and referrals for criminal investigation, and administrative monetary penalties and bans for employers who violate program conditions,” Julia Sullivan, an official with the department of Employment and Social Development, wrote in an email.

The government plans to do more in the future by further increasing inspections and making sure workers and employers understand their rights and obligations, she said.

Aguirre, frustrated with catching chickens, eventually began using a job placement agency to look for other work.

He and 14 others were subsequently picked up by border services in Oct. 2016 accused of violating the terms of their work permit, he said.

The workers have filed complaints with the province’s workplace health and safety board and requested a judicial review of their treatment during their arrest.

Their lawyer, Susan Ramirez, says she’s met hundreds of workers who have been denied health care or other rights.

“It’s a systemic problem,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s problematic because they’re under the governance of one employer who ignores their rights, and there’s a language barrier.”

Aguirre, for his part, has successfully obtained an open work permit until October, when the request for a judicial review will be heard in court.

He has a new job and hopes to eventually be allowed to stay in Canada permanently.


Temporary Foreign Worker program must be changed, workers say

  1. The program applies to all low skill jobs and it hurts Canadians opportunities for employment.

    The program encourages employers to pay unskilled wage and get highly skilled foreign workers competing for the jobs with our unskilled labour force because our minimum wage is like a six figure income where they come from.

    Canada first.

    • How do you define “highly skilled foreign workers” … are they software programmers, for example?
      Foreign workers come here to happily pick strawberries at a minimum wage … any other skills that they may have is irrelevant.
      It appears that your concern is non-acceptance with the minimum wage … something available to all unskilled Canadians, especially those who feel entitled to, but are ineligible for, a higher wage.

      • It’s not just pickers.

        Read the Wiki TFW history section.

        Here’s an excerpt. Remember this?

        On April 6, 2013, CBC News reported that Canadian RBC Information technology (IT) workers were losing their jobs to replacement foreign workers. The foreign workers were brought from India by outsourcing firm iGATE, and the Royal Bank of Canada employees trained their replacements before they themselves were laid off, causing their appeal to the media.

        • I imagine that the example that you use is confined to 2013 as the hiring of TFW’s when qualified Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents are available is illegal.
          The question relates to salary and, today, the law acknowledges minimum wage rules. It is a matter of attitude; if a worker is able to obtain a better income on social welfare he/she will be satisfied with the TFW programme … unfortunately.

          A Trump-inspired immigration and welfare policy is required.

      • TFW’s have a completive advantage that Canadians do not have.

        The cost of living in those countries are a whole lot cheaper there than they are here.

        So they can work for cheaper in Canada and be that much further ahead when they go home. Kind of puts any comparable position for Canadians at a disadvantage.

        I do not know what goes on in these farms in Quebec. But I do know of people who have been sacrificed for TFW’s that have taken their jobs and then moved to immigrants.

        • Justin believes in hypothetical multiculturalism and universal social welfare and, thus, globalization. Choose wisely at the next election.

  2. With unemployment figures hovering around 7%, I’m not sure why Canada needs foreign workers. Put the unemployed to work 1st. No need for a TFW program in Canada at this point. Send them home and hire locally.

    • Except that it is far cheaper to use offshore talent than local schmucks who do not want to work.
      Wait until the $15.00 minimum wage makes it a utopia.