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COVID-19 Updates News Labour
Feds invest $58.6M into foreign worker program to target COVID outbreaks


August 1, 2020
By Employment and Social Development Canada (edited)

Topics

The government of Canada is investing $58.6 million into the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program to reduce the incidence and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.

This measure was announced by Carla Qualtrough, federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, yesterday.

“We care deeply about the well-being of all farm workers, who are helping ensure the food security of Canadians. During the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19, we want to help farmers adapt and improve the employment conditions of all their employees as well as the living environment of temporary foreign workers,” says Bibeau.

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Of the investment, $7.4 million will be used to increase supports to temporary foreign workers. This includes $6 million  which will go to migrant worker support organizations to increase outreach and improve workers’ understanding of how to protect themselves from COVID-19, their rights in the workplace, services available to them, as well as information on how to access health, income and emergency supports when needed.

$16.2 million will go towards strengthening the employer inspections regime, particularly on farms, and making improvements to how tips and allegations of employer non-compliance are addressed (such as by initiating an inspection).

Another $35 million will be used to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19. This will go toward direct infrastructure improvements to living quarters, temporary or emergency housing (on- or off-farm), as well as PPE, sanitary stations, and any other health and safety measures. Non-repayable contributions will be cost-shared 50:50 with the applicants.

In order to be eligible for funding under the program, employers will confirm in writing that they will comply with any public health order and the regulations of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and they have a plan in place to prevent the spread of a the disease.


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Improving accommodations

The federal government will also work to develop mandatory requirements to improve employer-provided accommodations, focusing on ensuring better living conditions for workers. As a first step, the federal government will consult with provinces and territories, employers, workers and foreign partner countries on a proposal for these mandatory requirements for the TFW Program in the months to come, and will work with those same partners to implement changes.

To support the response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases amongst temporary foreign workers in Windsor-Essex County, the government of Canada is also currently collaborating with the Canadian Red Cross and the Province of Ontario to set up temporary housing for those affected in order to support them to self-isolate, in accordance with public health guidance. This work is being advanced under the Government’s previous commitment to provide up to $100 million to the Canadian Red Cross to support additional relief and recovery efforts this year related to COVID-19, floods and wildfires.

While provinces and territories are responsible for setting health care, employment standards and housing requirements in the agriculture sector post-quarantine in their respective jurisdictions, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is managed by Employment and Social Development Canada.

“We rely on temporary foreign workers for our food security and our planting season and we have a duty to keep them safe. We have taken prompt action to ensure that these workers can continue to arrive during the pandemic, to establish rules to keep them healthy and to make it easier for workers to switch employers to increase their job security. Clearly, there is still much to do and we will continue to strengthen and monitor these protections,” says Marco E.L. Mendicino, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

Enhanced inspections

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, employers are required to:

  • Not prevent workers from meeting their requirements under orders made under the Quarantine Act, as well as provincial/territorial public health laws related to COVID-19 throughout their period of employment. For workers hired under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, this means that they cannot work during the initial quarantine period.
  • Pay workers for the initial quarantine period upon entry into Canada.
  • Follow additional requirements for employers who provide accommodations to workers.

Failing to comply with employer compliance conditions can result in a range of penalties, including monetary penalties of up to a $1 million and bans from hiring foreign workers, up to a permanent ban, depending on the seriousness of the situation. .

As per regulations, Service Canada has the authority to conduct an inspection, with or without prior notice, in order to verify and employer’s compliance with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including within the first 14 days of the temporary foreign worker’s arrival.

Through a $16 million investment, the Government of Canada is immediately expanding the scope of inspections beyond the initial focus on the 14-day quarantine period and is engaging with provinces and territories to enhance information sharing to protect workers.  The Government of Canada will also increase the number of inspections significantly. ESDC will launch up to an additional 3,000 inspections with a focus on employers who employ workers who are at higher risk or vulnerable to COVID-19.  Service Canada inspectors have begun working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the province of Ontario, and local health units to assess the living and working conditions on some farms where outbreaks have occurred. This will help inform guidance to employers related to outbreaks, as well as inspections moving forward.

During inspections, the Government will prioritize that temporary foreign workers are paid for a minimum of 30 hours/week for the duration of the 14-day quarantine, and proactively inspect any farms that have been reported to be negating this responsibility.

It remains the employer’s responsibility to ensure they are complying with the conditions attached to their Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and the IRPR. An inspection may be initiated using one of the following methods:

  • random selection of employers receiving workers during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • in response to a tip or allegation received through our 1-800 tip line or on-line portal reporting any suspected non-compliance; or
  • in response to information received, including the possible spread of COVID-19, from other federal/provincial government departments or external stakeholders, including Consulates.

In cases of significant non-compliance, strict sanctions will be applied.

To better protect temporary foreign workers in Canada, the Government is also improving the worker tip line – including adding access to a live agent and provide services in multiple languages – as well as strengthening how allegations of employer non-compliance are treated. For example, a dedicated liaison officer has been established within ESDC to work with consulates and migrant network groups. As a priority, a Canada-Mexico Contact Group was created in June to collaboratively and effectively respond to COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure the health and safety of affected workers is protected. The Contact Group is working to address concerns related to potential employer non-compliance and emerging issues with the TFW Program in the current context.

Open work permits for vulnerable workers

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the open work permit for vulnerable workers. With this initiative, a temporary worker with an employer-specific work permit through either the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or International Mobility Program is eligible to apply for an open work permit if they are in an abusive situation related to their current job. With an open work permit, the worker will be able to look for new work immediately, with almost any employer, and escape the situation they were facing.

When a worker comes forward and is issued an open work permit under these regulations, the employer that they have been working for will face a compliance inspection, which can lead to a monetary penalty, a ban on hiring foreign workers and, when warranted, further criminal investigation.

Officers will not contact an employer who has been implicated by a worker as part of the worker’s application for an open work permit for vulnerable workers. The employer may only be contacted later, as part of an inspection after a worker has already been approved for this type of work permit.

With the open work permit for vulnerable workers in place, temporary workers are encouraged to come forward rather than endure mistreatment or abuse, and employers are encouraged to treat workers with respect, comply with labour laws and immigration rules, and provide an abuse-free workplace.

On May 11, the Government also announced a new, temporary policy that drastically reduces the time it takes for a temporary foreign worker to start a new job. While this policy is in place, a worker who is already in Canada and has secured a new job offer, typically backed by a labour market test, can get approval to start working in their new job, even while their work permit application is being fully processed. This will cut what can often take 10 weeks or more, down to 10 days or less.

Migrant workers vital

Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 foreign agricultural, food and fish processing workers come to work in Canada each year, which accounts for more than 60% of all foreign workers entering Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is the stream most commonly used by Agricultural Producers. In 2019, a total of 46,707 positions were approved under the SAWP, of which 12,858 were from the participating Caribbean countries, the rest were from Mexico.

Most foreign workers who work on farms are located in Ontario (40%), Quebec (32%), B.C. (18%) and Nova Scotia (2.6%)