Lack of oversight by the federal government has allowed foreign workers to be abused by their employers, Auditor General Sheila Fraser says in a scathing report on Canada's immigration program.
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The Toronto Star
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OTTAWA–Lack of oversight by the federal government has allowed foreign workers to be abused by their employers, Auditor General Sheila Fraser says in a scathing report on Canada's immigration program.
Fraser said federal authorities do not follow up on job offers for foreign workers to see if the jobs offered are real, if the employer can afford promised wages and if there is a real need for the worker.
Fraser's report follows a year-long series of Star articles that chronicled the exploitation of temporary workers, often referred to as "guest" workers, and live-in caregivers, some of whom were charged as much as $10,000 by recruiters and ended up with bogus jobs with phantom employers.
In some cases, the Star found nannies were housed in high numbers in basement apartments and flophouses around the GTA, then forced to work illegally to start paying recruiters their placement fees.
Many were also forced to surrender their passports and social insurance cards to these agencies to obtain work with other employers.
"The problems we noted could leave temporary workers in a vulnerable position and pose significant risks to the integrity of the immigration program as a whole," Fraser said in a statement accompanying her report to Parliament.
For instance, she said newcomers admitted to Canada under the special program for live-in caregivers may tolerate abuse, poor working conditions and poor accommodations so as not to lose the opportunity to become permanent residents.
Lower-skilled temporary workers from overseas are particularly at risk of these problems because of "their economic conditions, linguistic isolation and limited understanding of their rights," the report said.
"We all have to recognize that many of these people are quite vulnerable," Fraser added at a news conference.
But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the government has been aware of the problems and has already responded with tougher regulations.
Last month, Ottawa moved to ensure that employers who abuse foreign workers will be blacklisted and denied permission to hire another foreigner for two years.
The new rules allow "us to share information with the provinces, provincial labour departments who are responsible for ensuring the enforcement of labour codes," Kenney told reporters yesterday. "And it allows us to penalize abusive employers."
Kenney defended the temporary workers programs, saying "there are tens of thousands of employers who tell me that they would go out of business if they couldn't find people to fill those jobs."
But New Democrat MP Olivia Chow said the Conservatives view immigrants as "economic units – basically, use them and throw them out."
"It's wrong, it's in shambles and it leads to exploitation," Chow said of the current system.
Overall, despite a decade of work and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, programs to bring temporary and permanent workers to this country are so badly run that would-be immigrants have no assurance their applications will be judged speedily, consistently or fairly, the auditor general says.
In particular, Fraser questioned then-immigration minister Diane Finley's overhaul of immigration policy in 2008 – reforms highlighted by the controversial decision to give the federal minister unprecedented authority to decide how applications should be processed.
The measures "were implemented without sufficient analysis," Fraser said.
But the reforms introduced by Finley and other measures did not have the desired effect of significantly cutting down the huge inventory of applications by those wanting to be admitted to Canada.
As of late last year, 620,000 would-be immigrants were waiting to see if they could come to Canada under the skilled workers' application process, with the average processing time of their applications at 63 months, the auditor said.
Lack of strategic planning by the government has also skewed the system so that the type of workers being admitted permanently to Canada is changing without significant thought being given to the overall impact on immigration patterns and the country's needs, the audit also found.
Because of strong economic activity prior to 2009 and lengthy delays for skilled workers applying under the Federal Skilled Worker program, increasing numbers of newcomers are being admitted under a patchwork quilt of provincial government immigration programs and as temporary workers.
"There is little evidence that this shift is part of any well-defined strategy to best meet the needs of the Canadian labour market," the auditor said.
Fraser also said officials at Canadian missions abroad are buried under mountains of paperwork because the federal government, despite spending more than $300 million over 10 years on planned information technology updates, has yet to install modern systems for handling immigration cases.
The report also targeted Canada's emergency preparedness, criticizing Public Safety Canada for failing to exercise leadership in planning and co-ordinating emergency responses.
Fraser further reported:
Ottawa is failing its responsibility to oversee environmental hazards on native reserves.
The federal government lacks the power to force companies to recall children's jewellery containing toxic levels of lead.
The foreign aid arm of the federal government – the Canadian International Development Agency – continues to struggle in its 15-year effort to use Canada's financial assistance to make a bigger impact in poor countries around the globe.
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'Guest worker' abuses blasted (http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/article/720829---guest-worker-abuses-blasted)
- Economic sectors
Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations - general, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing, Dancers, and Other
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Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse
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Canada, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Nova Scotia, and National relevance