The federal government recently proposed amendments to protect temporary foreign workers, many of whom work in the agriculture industry. But most of the suggested changes are already in place, argues a farmer who runs a foreign worker program.
The Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced the 14 new amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.
Key objectives include:
• Mandating employers to provide workers with information about their rights; prohibiting reprisal by employers against workers with complaints; ensuring employers provide access to health-care services and health insurance when needed; prohibiting the charging of recruitment fees to workers and holding employers accountable for such actions of recruiters.
• Improving the government’s ability to prevent bad actors from participating in the program by strengthening the assessment of applications from new employers and deferring the processing of a Labour Market Impact Assess- ment (LMIA) if non-compliance is suspected.
• Strengthening the government’s ability to conduct inspections, including reducing the prescribed timelines and involving third parties to provide documents.
The new rules give the impression that conditions on the farm were terrible but the intention was to clarify the rules, said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, the non-profit organization that administers the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.
“Everybody thinks this is all new stuff, it isn’t. It already exists,” explained Forth. “When they change this, the assumption is that there’s something wrong. People will see it and say, ‘Oh it must be bad because they’re making up all these rules.’”
The new regulations require that employers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program provide their employees with access to healthcare and pay for their employees’ private health insurance, including emergency medical care. However, Forth said that ever since 1966, workers under the Seasonal Agri- cultural Workers Program have been covered by OHIP starting the moment they step onto Canadian soil.
“OHIP has been historic in this 54-year-old program in Ontario from day one. They say they’re going to do all these things, but it’s all already there,” Forth said.
Another amendment enforces the ban and punishment of employers charging temporary foreign workers illegal recruiting fees. Forth says recruiting is done by the Ministry of Labour and is highly regulated, already reducing the possibility of such abuse. Due to concerns regarding foreign workers not knowing their rights and protections, another amendment states that all employers must give their workers a document outlining their rights and post it in the workplace. Yet Forth says that workers have been receiving this information for years and that people should not assume the workers don’t know their own program. Arguably the biggest change is the amendment to reduce the response time for a notice of preliminary findings from 30 days to 15 days. This notice is sent to an employer when they are found to be non-compliant with regulatory conditions, giving them the opportunity to justify their compliance. However, this reduced time frame only applies to the farmers, meaning the government can still take as long as it wants before opening a file sent in.
“It should be both ways,” Forth said. Forth argues that all the amendments to be implemented were already inherent in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The foreign workers receive legal work permits; therefore they have the same rights and workplace protections as Canadians and permanent residents, he said.
Unfortunately for some farmers involved, the commotion over regulations has just been too much. “We’ve seen employers drop away; some are quitting. There’s farmers that have said, ‘You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Forth said.
“The way some people are interpreting it, all farmers are guilty and they should have to prove themselves innocent. That’s not the way this country works. You’re innocent until proven guilty,” Forth stated. “Most farmers are honest, good people. We’re not criminals, just regular people trying to grow food. I want us farmers to be thought of by the government of Canada as equal to every citizen and worker in Canada.”