HANSARD: Jenny addresses the importance of an improved Temporary Foreign Workers program

House of Commons Debate
Employment
Adjournment Proceedings
April 26th, 2022 / 7 p.m.

 

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, the findings of a recent damning report by the Auditor General exposed the Liberal government's failure to ensure the health and safety of temporary foreign agricultural workers, where ESDC provided little assurance that workers were protected during the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons, yet the minister announced that he will further expand the temporary foreign worker program.

It is so disappointing that the Liberal government has chosen to perpetuate a system that favours abuse and exploitation by increasing its reliance on temporary foreign workers. There is no denying that there is an imbalance of power in the temporary foreign worker program that has resulted in many migrant workers being exploited, including being subject to wage theft and poor working conditions. We have seen the horrors of how TFWs are put in substandard housing, unable to isolate in dense living quarters and unable to speak up, until their health was affected, during the worst of the pandemic.

This highlights the ongoing, deeply seated problems with the temporary foreign worker program. The sad reality is that even though the Liberals promised that they would take action to address this blatant violation of the workers' rights in 2020, the quality of the inspections has actually gotten worse. By continuing to add more TFWs to the system, ESDC will struggle even more to ensure their safety. It is clear that the Liberals are disregarding the rights of migrant workers.

There is this acceptance that the only way to solve the labour market challenges in Canada is to open the floodgates to temporary foreign workers. We need to abandon that concept immediately. We need to start looking at permanent immigration, while at the same time properly investing in domestic labour sources as part of a larger strategy. We need to acknowledge the failures of this policy and reject the approach of successive Liberal and Conservative governments of moving away from a balanced immigration system with a full range of skills. If Canada has a labour skills shortage, people should be allowed to immigrate to Canada with full status. We should, of course, invest in domestic training as well to ensure that locals are afforded every opportunity to fill Canada's labour market needs, including access to employment training.

Historically, TFWs were used to fill in positions that were truly temporary, for example visiting professors, specialized doctors, film crews, etc., people who have no intention of moving to Canada permanently, but the principle is long forgotten. We have steered away from that, and there are more temporary foreign workers coming to Canada than there are immigrants. This is simply wrong. The reliance on temporary foreign workers to meet the labour skills shortage means we are opening up the door for human rights abuses. The people whose rights are being robbed are essential workers. They are the people who help fuel Canada's economy. They are the people who take care of our loved ones. They are the people who help put food on our table. They are people who risked their lives during the worst of the pandemic to support Canadians. This exploitation has to stop, plain and simple.

Just 20 years ago, there were 60,000 temporary work permits in Canada. Since then, there has been a 600% increase to where it stands now, at over 500,000 people with temporary status."

 

Irek Kusmierczyk (Liberal) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

"Madam Speaker, the safety and well-being of all workers, including temporary foreign workers, are of utmost importance to our government. As the member of Parliament for a region that hosts 10,000 temporary foreign workers each year, I can say emphatically that temporary foreign workers deserve to be safe. They deserve to be treated as any Canadian worker would expect to be treated.

When the pandemic hit, the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, quickly strengthened conditions for the temporary foreign worker program and introduced stronger penalties for employers who fail to comply. In fact, throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons, ESDC hired more inspectors, enhanced its tip line service by including live agents, invested in migrant worker organizations to support vulnerable workers and worked closely with partners to keep workers safe.

Let us be clear. The government agrees with the Auditor General's recommendations and recognizes their seriousness. That is why we took steps to address the recommendations to improve the quality and timeliness of inspections, reduce backlogs and increase resources. ESDC is also continuing to expand its partnerships and work with employers to encourage compliance through education and awareness. We are already seeing the results, and they are overwhelmingly positive. Since July, we have seen a marked improvement in the quality of ESDC inspections and a significant reduction in the inventory of active inspections. These are important steps, but we know we have more work to do. That is why ESDC is rebuilding the TFW compliance regime. The Auditor General's recommendations are helping to guide that work.

While we recognize that the vast majority of employers care for the well-being of their workers, we also recognize that temporary foreign workers can face unique challenges. Given the question posed, let me very clear on the steps ESDC has been taking. We have ensured all staff responsible for inspections received supplementary training, which was completed last month. It implemented renewed guidance to ensure that if a worker's health and safety is at risk, necessary action is to be taken within 24 hours and no later than 48 hours, including the notification of appropriate stakeholders, authorities and jurisdictions. We developed a plan to target higher-risk areas, to reduce backlogs and ensure inspections are timely. We also reached 80% of inspections files without substantive errors by last month, March 2022, with progress in place to reach 90% by no later than September 2022.

We recognize the challenges temporary foreign workers face and have faced, especially during the pandemic. That is why the government has created special pathways to permanent residency so that eligible temporary foreign workers can remain in Canada for the long term. As I alluded to earlier, we have expanded relationships with key stakeholders, including federal, provincial and territorial partners, international law offices and employer groups, to help protect the health and safety of workers.

These working relationships are key to ensuring that the foreign workers so vital to our food supply will be welcomed into significantly safer working environments as we enter into the 2022 agricultural season."

 

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, there are 1.6 million people in Canada. One in 23 are non-permanent residents. Let me repeat, that is one in 23. They range from students to migrant workers to those who are undocumented. Many would be able to fulfill the labour skill shortage here given a chance. The NDP believes that the immigration system is about nation building. It is based on the principle that, if people are good enough to work or study here, they are good enough to stay.

To build our nation, our immigration policies need to be fair and equitable, and value the contributions of all workers from different social and economic classes. Landed status on arrival should be the standard of practice, and immigration streams should be made available to the full range of workers required in Canada's robust economy. It is not good enough to say we will do inspections. What we need to do is ensure that their full rights are respected when they land in Canada.

Let us do it right. It is time to—"

 

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Alexandra Mendes (Liberal)

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

 

Irek Kusmierczyk (Liberal) Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her excellent work on this incredibly important issue and file.

The government agrees with the Auditor General's recommendations. We are rebuilding the temporary foreign worker program compliance regime, and the Auditor General's recommendations are helping us to guide that work. We have already implemented improvements to ensure we can better support our inspection staff. These measures have improved the quality and timeliness of our inspections, and backlogs have been reduced.

We remain committed to protecting the health and safety of foreign workers. In the longer term, we know that improvements to foreign workers' living conditions are paramount. To achieve these necessary improvements and to meet the goals we have set, we are working diligently with stakeholders, including federal, provincial and territorial partners, international offices and employer groups, to provide safe environments for temporary foreign workers, especially in the agricultural sector.

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2022/4/26/jenny-kwan-4/

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