Ag work mostly outside feds’ foreign worker plan overhaul

Canadian farms importing temporary workers won’t be subject to most of the federal government’s moves to rein in businesses’ use of temporary foreign workers.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on Friday announced what they billed as a “comprehensive overhaul” of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Kenney in April slapped a moratorium on the food service sector’s access to the TFWP and pledged to draw up new and tighter program rules, following a new round of allegations of TFWP abuse by Canadian businesses. The government has now ended the food service moratorium.

Changes announced Friday for most TFWP streams include replacing the former “labour market opinion” process with a new “labour market impact assessment” (LMIA). Duration of an LMIA’s term of work for a “low-wage” TFW is now to be cut to one year, down from the previous two-year standard.

Employers applying for new LMIAs are also to be subject to a new per-worksite cap on the proportion of their workforce that can consist of low-wage temporary foreign workers (TFWs).

The new cap, applicable to businesses with 10 or more employees, at first will be set at the employer’s current percentage of TFWs or at 30 per cent, whichever is lower, and will be cut to 20 per cent and 10 per cent on July 1, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Kenney and Alexander also announced TFWP administration costs will now be borne “entirely” by employers who use the program. The LMIA fee will thus rise to $1,000 for each TFW position an employer requests, from $250 previously.

Kenney said his department will also seek authority to impose an additional “privilege fee,” estimated at $100, to help offset costs of federal investments in skills and job training.

Ag exemptions

However, the TFWP’s on-farm primary agriculture stream, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), will be exempt from the new fee, the new cap, the new one-year LMIA duration and the new reduced period for which a low-wage TFW will be allowed to remain in Canada.

The ag stream has allowed employers to hire temporary TFWs from any country for on-farm primary agricultural positions for a maximum of 24 months when Canadian citizens are not available. The SAWP, meanwhile, covers entry of TFWs from Mexico and specific Caribbean countries to meet “temporary, seasonal needs” such as for vegetable harvesters.

In the agriculture sector, the government reiterated Friday, there are “proven acute labour shortages… and the unfilled jobs are truly temporary.”

However, the government added Friday, all other new measures relating to TFWP enforcement and penalties will also apply to the on-farm primary agriculture stream and the SAWP.

Among those changes, the government said Friday it will increase the “number and scope” of TFWP inspections so one in four businesses employing TFWs will be inspected by the TFWP each year. It will also raise the number of TFWP requirements inspectors can review, to 21, up from three.

The government said it would also boost its own ability to “publicly blacklist” employers who have been suspended from the TFWP and/or are under investigation, as well as those who have had an LMIA revoked and are banned from using the program. New legislation is also expected to allow the government to impose “significant” fines of up to $100,000.

The new organization of the TFWP will also recategorize SAWP, keeping it as a separate program but placing it within a new “primary agricultural stream,” which is to cover positions related to “on-farm, primary” agriculture, such as general farm workers, nursery and greenhouse workers, feedlot workers and harvesting labourers.

Kenney said Friday the changes will “restore the (TFWP) to its original purpose — as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs.”

The program reforms, he said, will “significantly reduce the number of (TFWs) in Canada and improve labour market information, while strengthening enforcement and penalties for those who break the rules.”

“Nothing new”

The federal opposition New Democrats on Friday ripped the Conservative government’s overhaul as insufficient.

NDP employment and social development critic Jinny Sims said the government was “trying to reverse the damages they’ve caused by making the program easier to abuse… but their changes aren’t actually making sure employers hire Canadians first or protecting (TFWs) from abuse.”

The NDP, in a release, said the planned changes “offer nothing new to protect (TFWs) from exploitation, nor do they present a pathway to citizenship. The recruitment rules remain the same, rather than requiring employers to advertise for longer or at higher wages.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union also criticized the program reforms Friday as “an additional bandage on a broken system.”

UFCW Canada president Paul Meinema said in a release “we still have no specifics with regard to what the scope of enforcement measures are and which departments are actually enforcing these new amendments. Previously, the government has acknowledged they really have no ability to enforce the TFWP regulations in any meaningful way.”

The union, he noted, has been able to negotiate terms in its collective agreements with agrifood processors such as Cargill, HyLife Foods, Maple Leaf and Olymel that have allowed “hundreds” of TFWs to gain permanent residency. — AGCanada.com Network

 

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