Lack­ing over­sight

Au­di­tor gen­eral finds tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram rife with prob­lems

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY JOR­DAN PRESS

Canada’s tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers pro­gram is rife with over­sight prob­lems that ap­pear to have al­lowed lower-paid in­ter­na­tional work­ers to take jobs that out-of-work Cana­di­ans could fill, the fed­eral au­di­tor gen­eral says.

Michael Fer­gu­son’s ex­am­i­na­tion of the con­tro­ver­sial pro­gram, part of a bat­tery of spring au­dits tabled Tues­day, de­tails a litany of prob­lems.

Em­ploy­ers hired tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers without first prov­ing they had ex­hausted all op­tions with the do­mes­tic work­force, Fer­gu­son found. At times, re­quests for tem­po­rary help were ap­proved for head­scratch­ing rea­sons that of­fi­cials didn’t chal­lenge.

Of­fi­cials didn’t use govern­ment data on Canada’s labour mar­ket that could have helped to en­sure em­ploy­ers were be­ing truth­ful in their ap­pli­ca­tions, the re­port says.

Nor did of­fi­cials ef­fec­tively crack down on com­pa­nies that were found to have run afoul of the rules.

Few on-site in­spec­tions or face-to-face in­ter­views with the for­eign work­ers them­selves were con­ducted, it con­tin­ues. Even when cor­rec­tive action was rec­om­mended, it took months for all the nec­es­sary ap­provals.

In one case, a per­son was al­lowed to hire a care­giver for an el­derly par­ent even though they had not tried to re­cruit a Cana­dian, as is re­quired, be­cause they wanted “some­one who is trust­wor­thy and with the abil­ity to work without su­per­vi­sion.”

The re­sult is that some com­pa­nies may have ef­fec­tively built a busi­ness model on the pro­gram partly be­cause of­fi­cials failed to chal­lenge ob­vi­ous red flags au­di­tors found in about 40 per cent of the cases re­viewed.

“They were tak­ing em­ploy­ers at their word. They weren’t ques­tion­ing the em­ploy­ers, the ap­pli­ca­tion that em­ploy­ers put for­ward to get ap­proval to hire a tem­po­rary for­eign worker,” Fer­gu­son told a news con­fer­ence.

Fer­gu­son’s team also found that over 80 per cent laid off Cana­dian work­ers at com­pa­nies in the fish pro­cess­ing sec­tor were claim­ing em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance at the same time the com­pa­nies were em­ploy­ing tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers.

Some fish and seafood pro­cess­ing plants told of­fi­cials that they needed tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers be­cause Cana­di­ans had quit their po­si­tions be­cause of the con­di­tions or dif­fi­culty of the work.

“If ever there were an abuse in the minds of Cana­di­ans that’s a hor­ror story, this is it,” said NDP MP David Christo­pher­son.

“The new govern­ment came in and said they were go­ing to fix it, they were go­ing to make things OK — and what we’re see­ing here is they’re still not there.”

Labour Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu said the Lib­eral govern­ment plans to im­ple­ment all of Fer­gu­son’s rec­om­men­da­tions to beef up over­sight of ap­pli­ca­tions, en­act stricter re­cruit­ment re­quire­ments for low-wage jobs, and en­force­ment ac­tiv­i­ties like unan­nounced in­spec­tions. Ha­jdu blamed the Con­ser­va­tives for prob­lems out­lined in Fer­gu­son’s re­view, which looked at data be­tween 2013 and mid-2016.

“The tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram should be used as a last re­sort when busi­nesses can’t find qual­i­fied Cana­di­ans to fill those jobs,” Ha­jdu said.

“We be­lieve that ev­ery em­ployer must com­ply with strict pro­gram rules be­fore they can ac­cess a for­eign worker and that’s why we brought for­ward mean­ing­ful changes.”

The pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment over­hauled the pro­gram in 2014 in a bid to en­sure the pro­gram worked as in­tended: to help com­pa­nies fill job va­can­cies only when qual­i­fied Cana­di­ans couldn’t be found for the work, and only when it didn’t neg­a­tively af­fect the lo­cal labour mar­ket.

Be­tween 2013 and 2015, the num­ber of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers in Canada dropped from 163,000 to just over 90,000, a re­sult of the 2014 changes and the eco­nomic down­turn.

The Lib­er­als plan to spend $304 mil­lion over five years to en­sure em­ploy­ers com­ply with pro­gram rules, in­clud­ing new rules in­tro­duced late last year that in­clude stricter re­cruit­ment re­quire­ments.

CP PHOTO/SEAN KIL­PATRICK

Au­di­tor Gen­eral Michael Fer­gu­son speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Na­tional Press Theatre in Ot­tawa on Tues­day.

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