The use of temporary foreign workers—already a controversial topic in Canada—recently became more controversial when changes were announced to the program that could permit employers with criminal convictions to participate.
Why should safety professionals be concerned?
Because the government removed provisions from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that would have barred employers convicted of crimes including causing the death of a worker, claiming the restrictions were “too rigid and cumbersome.”
In an explanatory statement released on Jan. 1, 2014, the government said that the amendments introduce other measures that ensure a safe workplace for temporary foreign workers, such as by including a condition requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a workplace free of abuse, including physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse.
The quiet removal of provisions aimed at companies convicted of crimes was a surprise to organizations such as the Canadian Labour Congress, which the government had consulted on other changes to this program. No one, including businesses, seems to understand why these changes were made.
And the federal government doesn’t see why there’s been such a fuss over the changes.
Pamela Wong, an official for the Employment and Social Development Department, said that “employers who engage in serious criminal activity, like human trafficking, sexual assault or conduct leading to the death of an employee are by definition creating an unsafe work environment, and will not be able to use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.”
Canadian immigration officials have been tough on foreign individuals with criminal convictions for safety offences, preventing them from getting visas or permanent residency status. We’ll have to wait and see if the Employment and Social Development Department is as tough on foreign companies with similar criminal records.