Federal Government to introduce fines for employers abusing foreign-worker program

Federal Government to introduce fines for employers abusing foreign-worker program

The federal government is set to introduce steep new fines for employers caught abusing the Temporary Foreign Worker program – the latest crackdown on a program critics have warned can undercut wages or cost Canadians their jobs.

The authority to fine employers is expected to be included in a budget implementation act set to be tabled in Ottawa Friday, according to a source familiar with the change. The act is the legislation that implements the budget, which was made public February 11. 2014. The act will include, for the first time, a range of cash penalties for companies found to have misused the TFW program.

The program allows employers to bring in foreign workers who aren’t yet permanent residents, and is meant for cases where Canadians can’t fill the jobs. It has proven vulnerable, however, to high-profile cases of abuse where Canadians have been skipped over or forced to train their foreign replacements. Those cases sparked outcry and led to federal changes announced last year, and Employment Minister Jason Kenney has since signaled further changes are coming.

Under the bill, employers will face administrative penalties in various cases, including if they brought in a worker under a false pretense, hired a foreign worker when they should have hired Canadians or fired Canadians from jobs that subsequently went to a foreign worker, the source said. The broad strokes of the change are expected to be announced Friday. Specific fines will be finalized in the coming months, with the changes expected to formally take effect in early 2015, the source said.

The potential fines were described as “very heavy” and “severe” by the source, described as the strongest action the government has taken to rein in the TFW program thus far. Companies who refuse to pay up could face a court order or have their case referred to the Canada Revenue Agency.

The new rules on foreign workers come as the Conservative government is under fire over its claims of rising skills shortages, which have been used to justify a dramatic increase in the number of foreign workers entering Canada.

The changes will apply to all industries and regions. The TFW program is widely used, though tends to be more valuable in labour-starved Western Canada. The program has been used by various sectors for a range of jobs, from low-skilled hotel employees to bank executives.

Among the most high-profile cases of abuse was one last year, where RBC employees were training TFWs meant to ultimately replace them. The government cracked down, announcing changes in April, 2013. In a more recent case, 65 Alberta iron workers claimed in February they were laid off from jobs set to be filled by TFWs, a potentially serious abuse Mr. Kenney’s office pledged to investigate. They were subsequently rehired.

Source: Globe and Mail March 27, 2014