Ottawa Slammed For Allowing ‘Disposable’ Temporary Work Force

Ottawa slammed for allowing 'disposable' temp workforce
Foreign workers program ripe for abuse, labour groups say

Nicholas Keung,
Immigration Reporter
Published On Mon Oct 19 2009

The proposed changes to Canada's temporary foreign workers program reinforce a “disposable” workforce and further penalize workers already vulnerable to abuse, advocacy groups and labour unions warn.

The changes, announced last week, represent another setback for the 260,000 temporary foreign workers many in clerical and manual jobs because it limits their stay to four years and bans them from returning to Canada for six years, critics say.

“They are punishing the victims, not stopping the exploitation,” said Sonia Singh, a spokesperson for the Toronto-based Coalition for Change, an umbrella group of 20 labour and community organizations.

“It is another tool for the government to create a disposable workforce. So, you work hard, do jobs that Canadians don't want and contribute to our economy, and we send you home after four years. Is it the way we want to build Canada?”

Critics say Canada is being sent backward in history to when cheap labourers, like the Chinese rail workers or Caribbean domestics, were brought here and then restricted entry when they were no longer needed.

“We used them, abused them and booted them out,” said Toronto MP Olivia Chow, the New Democrats' immigration critic.

The parliamentary citizenship and immigration committee made dozens of recommendations to revamp the foreign workers' programs, but based on the proposed regulations most were not adopted.

“A lot of these problems have to do with the imbalance of power between employers and workers. No tinkering of the program can solve the root cause,” said Chow.

The committee had also recommended work permits be sector- and province-specific instead of employer-specific and that the government perform unannounced spot checks of work and housing conditions on temporary foreign worker job sites.

Under the rules proposed by Ottawa, employers who abuse foreign workers will be blacklisted and banned from hiring another foreigner for two years.

Karl Flecker of the Canadian Labour Congress said the government allocated $80 million to streamline the program to make it easier for employers to bring in workers, but there is no mention of enforcement of employment standards for these workers.

In the government's own impact analysis, it admitted that, despite the abuse, “no provisions exist in the regulations to hold employers accountable for their actions regarding temporary foreign workers.”