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Temporary foreign workers come to Canada with a vulnerability particular to their status, that Canadian workers don’t necessarily share. They may have trouble with English, and they may come from countries where workers don’t enjoy the rights and legislated protections that workers here take for granted.
Temporary foreign workers may be unsure of, or even unaware of Canadian occupational health and safety regulations, employment standards and laws protecting them from harassment or abusive working conditions.
The adjective “temporary” affixed to their status may make them hesitant to speak up and afraid to rock the boat when something is wrong. They are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and may be more likely to keep quiet and tolerate unsafe working conditions than a native-born Canadian worker would be.
For all these reasons, it is difficult to fathom why the federal government has retreated from implementing a ban it proposed on preventing companies with a record of convictions involving human trafficking, sexual assault or the causing of an employee’s death, from being eligible to hire temporary foreign workers. Just one conviction would have been enough to keep an employer out of the program.
It was precisely because of incidents of abuse directly connected to the program that the government originally conceived the ban. The government’s explanation for backing off from it now is that new regulations require “employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a workplace free of abuse” and that lawyers have advised the ban would have been redundant.
Anything that offers the suitably vague phrase “reasonable efforts” is automatically open to a broad spectrum of interpretation and does nothing to guarantee protection for those most vulnerable. Such soft language is odd, given the fact that the federal Public Safety ministry voiced its concerns just three months ago when it asked for proposals in its quest for information on labour trafficking: “A major source of criminal opportunity for forced labour is the area of temporary foreign workers.”
It is alarming that companies with serious convictions on their record would be given a free pass in this regard. And while the government argues that the new regulations allow federal authorities to conduct work site inspections, some realism needs to be injected. Temporary foreign workers, for all of the reasons that place them on unsure footing in Canada, are probably the least likely group to be whistleblowers and approach an inspector on the job site to air their concerns. Canadian citizens have a hard time themselves in blowing the whistle about their employer’s perceived transgressions, for fear of losing their jobs. One can only imagine how much more fear a temporary foreign worker would feel doing so, especially if his or her family back home is relying on this temporary Canadian income.
Just as someone convicted of child molestation doesn’t get to work in a daycare centre, so too should a company found guilty of crimes against its employees not be allowed to benefit from the temporary foreign worker program.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
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