by SUSAN MANN
Long anticipated federal reforms of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program will also give the federal government greater authority to suspend and revoke work permits if they’re being misused in the agricultural program, two cabinet ministers announced Monday.
But otherwise, the seasonal agricultural worker program, a subsection of the Canada’s temporary foreign worker program, will be little affected by the package of changes announced Monday in Ottawa by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The government’s April 29 press release explains that there “are proven acute labour shortages” in agriculture and the unfilled jobs “are truly temporary.” For these reasons, many of the changes proposed for the foreign worker program, which supplies workers to a variety of different industries, simply don’t apply.
Ken Forth, president of the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, which administers the seasonal agricultural worker program, says when the government announced last year it would reform the temporary foreign worker program, officials assured the seasonal agricultural worker program wouldn’t change. The government has kept its word, he says.
The reform announced Monday just makes the seasonal agricultural worker program even better. “You can be assured that nobody can mess with this program now,” Forth says, noting there wasn’t a problem with the program previously.
Some of the changes to the temporary foreign worker program announced Monday include:
• Employers must make greater efforts to recruit and train Canadians to fill available jobs.
• Effective immediately, employers must pay the prevailing wage to temporary foreign workers; previously employers could pay foreign workers 15 per cent less than Canadians.
• Questions will be added to the employer Labour Market Opinion applications to ensure the temporary foreign worker program isn’t used to facilitate outsourcing Canadian jobs.
• Fees will be introduced for employers to process Labour Market Opinions and increase the fees for work permits so taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the costs.
• Employers will be required to have a firm plan in place to transition to Canadian workers over time through the Labour Market Opinion report.
Forth says the seasonal agricultural worker program has been a “Canadians first” for jobs since 1968 and farm employers must already pay the prevailing wage rate or the minimum wage, whichever one is higher. In Ontario, minimum wage is $10.25 per hour. Farm employers also must provide housing and pay at least 50 per cent of the airfare for workers. “It all adds up on top of that ($10.25 per hour minimum wage),” he says.
About hiring Canadians first, Forth says “agriculture already hires a lot of Canadians.”
“The seasonal workers and the Canadians that work in that program are very important,” he says. “If we lost all the seasonal workers we would have to lay off a lot of Canadians” and vise versa. “It all works together in a complex system.”
The program only applies to workers from Mexico and some Caribbean countries. The agricultural category permits the hiring of other workers for up to 24 months for on-farm, primary agriculture activities. According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s website, agricultural workers may also be hired through the temporary foreign workers higher-skilled and lower-skilled occupations categories.
According to the federal news release, "primary agricultural occupations" filled through temporary foreign worker categories other than the seasonal agricultural worker program also remain mostly unaffected by the reforms.
Employers can use the foreign worker program to hire foreign workers temporarily to fill immediate skills and labour shortages when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Service Canada are responsible for assessing employer applications requesting foreign workers. The government departments issue a Labour Market Opinion on the likely impact temporary foreign workers would have on the Canadian job market.
The reforms do give the government greater authority on whether to release its labour market opinion and this reform also applies to the seasonal agricultural worker program.
The government’s press release says the reforms “will ensure that the TFWP (temporary foreign worker program), which is an important program to deal with acute skills shortages on a temporary basis, is used only as a last resort.” BF