The provincial government Saturday announced a plan for better protection of temporary foreign workers who come to B.C.
Employers hiring foreign nationals through three federal programs - the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the Home Child-Care Provider Pilot or the Home Support Worker Pilot - have until Dec. 15 to register with the provincial government. There is no fee for registering.
"Our government is committed to ensuring that regardless of your immigration status, if you're working in B.C., your rights and protections are the same as any worker," said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour, in a news release. "These important protections for vulnerable workers in our province are long overdue and will ensure they are not taken advantage of."
The latest government announcement is one of a plethora of NDP government announcements in the past couple of days.
This latest sees a registration requirement the government says will ensure fair working conditions for all workers in the province. It means people from abroad who come here are paid for the hours they work, have a job description that matches the work they perform and ensures their rights and safety are protected while on the job, the province notes.
"Temporary foreign workers are integral to our agricultural sector and B.C. relies on them for important jobs like harvesting the crops we depend on for our daily meals and to build our province's food security," said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture. "The new registration requirement for employers will help ensure foreign workers are fairly treated."
The province says the registration requirement will allow the government to identify which employers hire temporary foreign workers and will enable inspection of those employers and enforcement of provincial law. Until now, there has not been a system that registers and certifies employers who hire workers from other countries.
This employer registry is the final step in implementing the Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act, passed in fall 2018. Last year, B.C. established a licensing requirement for recruiters of foreign workers and launched the recruiter registry. Approximately 150 recruiters in B.C. are licensed and in good standing.
A rally was held in August 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.
In response, Qualtrough said the federal government 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.
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.