Little oversight for territory’s temporary foreign workers

It's possible that foreign workers in the territory are being exploited. It's hard to know for sure. The federally run Temporary Foreigner Worker program has very little oversight.

It’s possible that foreign workers in the territory are being exploited.

It’s hard to know for sure. The federally run Temporary Foreigner Worker program has very little oversight.

“My sense is that they don’t do any follow up,” Shawn Kitchen, director of Labour Market Programs and Services for the Yukon government, said of the federal program.

However, most workers are part of the Yukon Nominee Program, he said.

“There’s been some confusion about that,” said Kitchen.

“Participants in the Yukon Nominee Program – particularly those in the critical impact and skilled work streams – come in on a (federal) temporary foreign worker permit.”

“But they’re not really here as ‘temporary foreign workers,’ they’re only here on that permit.

“The intention is that they’re here to become workers and apply for permanent residency, so that’s why we refer to them as Yukon nominees.”

This includes the workers at Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons and a host of other local businesses.

There are probably some workers here on the temporary foreign worker permit who are not part of the Yukon nominee program, he said.

In 2008, 235 people came to the Yukon with a temporary foreign worker permit.

That’s up from 157 workers in 2007 and 201 in 2006.

There’s little followup done on those workers.

“And that’s part of the problem.”

Of those 600-odd workers who arrived on the federal permit, 400 participated in the Yukon Nominee Program, which began in 2006.

The federal program has recently been under fire from Canada’s auditor general, Sheila Fraser, who has cited reports of abuse against foreign workers as well as poor working conditions and accommodations.

Some workers have been forced to pay up to $10,000 to recruiters to work in Canada, sometimes for jobs that don’t exist.

“There is no systematic follow up to verify that employers have complied with the terms and conditions (such as wages and accommodations) under which the work permits were issued,” Fraser said in a report released earlier this month.

“This creates risks to program integrity and could leave many foreign workers in a vulnerable position.”

“Our department is taking action on it so that is being addressed,” said Johanne Nadeau, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

“And we have proposed a number of changes to the program.”

Under the revisions, government will have more authority to review the actions of the employers.

But it is still unclear which department will conduct this oversight.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is also involved in the program and may do these follow ups.

The proposed changes would lay out the actions government can take against employers when wrongdoing is discovered.

If, for example, the job a worker finds when they get to Canada is completely different from the job that was advertised, the employer will be restricted from taking part in the program for the next two years.

The proposed program changes will also help recognize bad employers without being overly onerous on the large majority of other employers that have the workers’ best interest at heart, said Nadeau.

How will they do this?

“I don’t have the specific details on that,” said Nadeau.

“These are just the changes we are proposing so that the needs of temporary foreign workers are met.

“We want to protect them from potential abuse and exploitation.”

The program was created to facilitate the entry of temporary foreign workers into Canada to meet short-term employment needs.

It was meant to help employers that are unable to find suitable Canadians or permanent residents to fill vacant positions.

An employer must identify the need to hire a temporary foreign worker, and then has to go out and find eligible candidates on their own.

There are no quotas for this program, but usually when unemployment grows, the number of foreign workers shrinks, and vice versa, said Nadeau.

There are currently ways for workers to complain.

If the job is different from what was advertised, workers can register a complaint to Citizenship and Immigration Canada or Human Resources and Skill Development Canada, said Nadeau.

“And we take these things very seriously.”

If they want to complain about labour or employment standards, they would have to contact the appropriate provincial or territorial government department.

However, this can be difficult for workers that have problems with English or are unsure of their rights, said Fraser in her report.

Many of the foreign workers come from countries or cultures where complaining is looked down upon or punished.

And workers’ permits are tied to their employers, so a complaint may mean having to leave Canada.

The workers won’t necessarily be sent home, but if they want to stay they have to find another Canadian employer to take them in, said Nadeau.

“The process would have to start all over again.”

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com

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