Canada begins consultations to improve living conditions for temporary foreign workers

The Canadian government is seeking feedback on mandatory employer-provided accommodation as it begins consultations on improving living conditions for foreign workers.
calendar icon 29 October 2020
clock icon 4 minute read

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has made significant investments to increase protections for temporary foreign workers, prevent the spread of the virus, and address outbreaks on farms when they do occur. The Government continues to work with partners at home and abroad through the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Programme to ensure employers take the necessary steps to keep workers safe. Despite these efforts, the pandemic has highlighted long-standing challenges, including certain housing and living conditions.

That is why the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced that the Government of Canada has begun consultations with provinces and territories, employers, workers, worker support groups, and other interested parties on a proposal to establish minimum requirements for employer-provided accommodations for the TFW Programme across Canada.

Minister Qualtrough said, "The health and safety of temporary foreign workers is a key priority for the Government of Canada. Any unsafe working or living conditions are completely unacceptable. While we are proud of the worker protections we have in this country, we recognise that there are important issues that need to be addressed within the Temporary Foreign Worker Programme, and we are taking action. Improving accommodations is a major focus of our efforts. We are working tirelessly to ensure that temporary foreign workers’ rights are protected in Canada.”

As a first step, the Government of Canada is seeking input until 22 December 2020 on proposed accommodation requirements in the TFW Programme’s primary agriculture stream. The Government is also seeking feedback on potential approaches to strengthen oversight of worker accommodations, both prior to and after workers’ arrivals. The consultations will inform the development of a lasting approach to improve living conditions for workers. Creating clear and consistent standards will also ensure employers fully understand their obligations and can better adhere to them.

The Government of Canada will also soon be launching a survey of temporary foreign worker employers in the agricultural sector to inform the development of new proposed federal accommodations requirements and how they would be implemented. This survey will help the Government better understand the variety of accommodations arrangements currently being used to support temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector while they are employed in Canada.

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Bibeau said, “Agricultural workers are essential for the production of safe and reliable food in our country, and we know that they all deserve a safe working and living environment. As the vast majority of our farmers are known to care for the well-being of their workers, these measures will build on Canada’s reputation for prospective workers at home and abroad. These consultations are an important step in helping us address chronic labour shortages and ensuring the sector reaches its full growth potential.”

The Government of Canada will complement existing standards at the provincial level, and will take further federal action in partnership to help improve protections for those who are part of the TFW Programme.

Individuals wishing to obtain more information or provide feedback in this consultation should contact Employment and Social Development Canada by sending an email to [email protected] by 22 December 2020.

Background to the issue and consultation process

  • The plan to consult with provinces and territories, employers, workers and foreign partner countries on a proposal for mandatory requirements to improve employer-provided accommodations was first announced on 31 July 2020 as part of the Government of Canada’s plan to take additional action to reduce the incidence and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.
  • Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 foreign agricultural workers come to work in Canada each year, which accounts for more than 60 percent of all foreign workers entering Canada under the TFW Programme.
  • The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme (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 percent), Quebec (32 percent), British Columbia (18 percent) and Nova Scotia (2.6 percent)
  • On 31 July, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $58.6 million to strengthen the TFW Programme and make further investments to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19, including:
    • $7.4 million to increase supports to temporary foreign workers;
    • $16.2 million to strengthen the employer inspections regime; and
    • $35 million to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters.

The TFW Program is managed by Employment and Social Development Canada. Provinces and territories are responsible for most health, employment standards and housing requirements.

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