In May of 2019, migrant workers across Canada arranged meetings with the staff of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Refugee, Immigration and Citizenship Canada regarding the Occupation Specific Work Permit proposal. Many migrant worker organizations representing the majority of self-organized groups of migrant workers from Canada were part of these meetings. They also collectively submitted a written policy proposal on this and relevant matters on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The main concerns covered in these groups meeting included calling for permanent resident status on arrival and open work permits. They also submitted policy recommendations. The meeting was also to urge RICC and ESDC to remove the Labour Market Impact Assessment requirement from these occupational specific work permits. These organizations across the country have been working together on these policy changes for over a year. The organizations involved, which formed the Migrants Rights Network, are Toronto based Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Migrante Canada, Migrante BC, Migrante Alberta, Migrante Manitoba, Migrante Ontario, Migrante Ottawa, Migrante Quebec, Association for the Rights of Household & Farm Workers (ARHW) – Montreal, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO) – Toronto, Caregivers Action Centre – Toronto, Cooper Institute – PEI, FCJ Refugee Centre – Toronto, Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) Montreal, Income Security Advocacy Centre – Toronto, Migrant Worker Solidarity Network – Manitoba, Migrants Resource Centre Canada – Toronto, PINAY – Quebec, RAMA – Okanagan, Sanctuary Health – Vancouver and Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR).
Below are from the organizations’ responses to Government of Canada’s official newspaper Canada Gazette regarding the Occupation Specific Work Permits (Part 1 (vol. 153, no. 25).
(1) Would an occupation-specific work permit increase the likelihood that foreign workers would seek out better job opportunities within their occupation? What barriers to mobility would persist?
By continuing the requirement of a Labour Market Impact Assessment for workers to change jobs, the proposed regulations do not create an occupation-specific work permit, or enhance labour mobility. These proposed regulations largely create opportunities for employers to fill in job vacancies without needing to go through another Labour Market Impact Assessment process.
The following barriers to mobility persist:
• There are simply not enough LMIA approved job vacancies
• There is no mechanism for workers to be made aware of jobs
• This proposal does not in any way resolve exploitation by third party recruiters and consultants as migrant workers will have little choice but to continue using third party recruiters to find new jobs
(2) What positive impacts would this occupation-specific work permit have for temporary foreign workers? What concerns or challenges would it pose, and how could these concerns be mitigated?
In most cases, employers would be aware that no real opportunities for changing jobs exist within this proposed regulation for most workers. This, in addition to a lack of any real labour mobility, means that any positive impacts would be negligible.
In addition, workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, who change jobs using this mechanism have no protection against blacklisting or guarantees that they will be invited back the next year. On June 13, 2019, the federal government announced the creation of occupation specific work permits for care workers through the creation of the Home Child Care Provider Pilot and Home Support Worker Pilot programs. These programs do NOT require a Labour Market Impact Assessment. The organizatons proposed to extend the same program to all workers in Canada on employer specific work permits – but without limiting to an National Occupation Classification (NOC).
(3) What positive or negative impacts would this work permit have for employers and Canadian and permanent resident workers in Canada?
Such an initiative increases the power of employers who can now lay off a worker knowing that they no longer have to go through another Labour Market Impact Assessment process to hire a new worker. This gives additional powers to employers to force workers to work longer hours, in more dangerous conditions and with lower wages.
(4) Should there be a designated time period (e.g. first two months after starting a job contract) when foreign workers are not permitted to change jobs?
Employers across Canada make significant investments in hiring, and training their workforce. However, limiting the ability of workers to change or leave jobs is not permissible for residents. Any limits on migrant worker mobility further entrenches indentureship in the program. In addition, as is well documented, many Careworkers are ‘released on arrival’ – that is, no employer exists or work conditions are not as promised, and workers have no jobs as soon as they arrive.
(5) Would additional supports be required to help temporary foreign workers find a new employer in Canada with a valid Labour Market Impact Assessment in their occupation? If so, what kind of supports should be considered and who should provide them?
Canada needs a federal job bank that allows migrant workers (in and out of the country) to match with potential employers, at any time. Such a job bank was proposed by migrant care workers in November 2018. By controlling employer registration on such a job bank, pertinent departments can track labour market needs, collect administration fees, and track employers. Creating a special job bank for employers and workers under the TFWP could potentially provide a way to reduce exploitation by recruiters and agencies. Potential migrant workers can use the job bank to directly connect with an employer without going through third party recruiters or consultants.
(6) With greater mobility of foreign workers, what kind of mechanisms should the departments consider to track foreign workers and their new employers for compliance purposes?
In the meetings, ESDC said that if migrant workers were to work in jobs without LMIAs, ESDC would not be able to adequately protect workers. However, ESDC does not have the regulatory authority to protect workers whose labour and human rights have been violated. For the overwhelming majority of workers, labour law and employment standards law falls under the purview of provincial labour departments with a system where workers can make complaints, and a remediation system through which workers can gain access to justice. The ESDC does not have any of these systems, and lacks jurisdiction to enforce provincial laws. A new system of federal and provincial cooperation would be needed to protect workers’ rights. If ensuring labour rights protections requires knowing which employers have hired migrant workers, this goal could be achieved by requiring employers to register following a worker hiring.
(7) Is there a need to clarify or amend the responsibilities of employers and foreign workers in light of this new work permit?
Canada must work with provinces to create a publicly available recruiter registry, with joint and several financial liability between employers and recruiters. Such a system would ensure that employers only work through registered recruiters who are not charging fees from workers, and that workers have access to such a registry so as to ensure that they are working with legitimate recruiters.
(8) Are there particular considerations for specific Temporary Foreign Worker Program Streams that need to be taken into account when designing an occupation-specific work permit?
As outlined above, migrant workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program require certainty of protection from blacklisting, and are guaranteed being invited back, as not doing so would mean that most workers will not be able to come back in the future.