The Government of Canada is taking additional action to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks on farms, but is also taking a look at changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
That’s what Delta MP Carla Qualtrough is saying in response to a recent rally calling for better protection of temporary foreign workers.
Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, noted the government’s announcement this summer of strengthening the Temporary Foreign Workers program and making further investments to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign employees from COVID-19.
“Temporary foreign workers play a vital role in preserving Canada’s food security. They are essential workers who have stepped up during this pandemic to help ensure that there is food on our tables and on tables around the world. Since the very beginning of this pandemic, we have worked with provinces, partner countries, industry organizations and other stakeholders to protect the health and safety of temporary foreign workers, farm workers in particular. Despite these efforts, there have been COVID-19 outbreaks on a number of Canadian farms,” Qualtrough said.
“That is why we announced on July 31, 2020 additional measures aimed at reducing the incidence and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. With an investment of $58.6 million, we are strengthening the Temporary Foreign Worker program in a number of areas, including inspections, housing and on-farm mitigation. We are also supporting migrant worker organizations to ensure that workers get the information and support they require.
This pandemic has exposed long existent power imbalances and gaps within our Temporary Foreign Worker program. Even though we recognize that there are many employers who are ensuring safe and healthy work arrangements for all workers, there are others who are not doing so. The Prime Minister and I believe that we need to reimagine this program. I am working with other Cabinet colleagues to modernize the Temporary Foreign Workers program, and will continue to work hard to make the system more fair and equitable for everyone," she added.
A rally was held last Friday outside Qualtrough’s constituency office in Ladner by advocates for migrant workers in Canada, saying the essential workers urgently need the same essential rights as Canadian workers.
The rally was part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign, led by the Migrant Workers Centre and endorsed by 30 organizations.
Several speakers described the challenges faced by temporary foreign workers and called on Qualtrough and her government to take action on what’s been described as a continued failure to address the urgent needs of the workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They said employers are taking advantage of the workers who face low wages and standards as well as a lack of basic rights and services.
Natalie Drolet with the Migrant Workers Centre told the Optimist more than 1,300 migrant workers in Ontario alone have been infected with COVID-19 and three have died, including one undocumented worker.
Noting the workers are tied to just a single employer, she said it’s difficult for them to come forward to negotiate their working conditions and speak up if they have concerns about the health and safety of their workplace due to fear they will be removed from Canada.
The group says the government’s announcement this summer falls significantly short of what the workers need and deserve.