Even though Canada’s temporary-foreign-worker program comes under federal jurisdiction, provinces have the power to protect labourers, a B.C. lawyer says.
Ai Li Lim is the executive director of the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association. On August 10, her group presented a report on temporary foreign workers at a well-attended forum at SFU Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.
“Yes, it’s a federal immigration program, but once the workers are here in B.C., they have to be—or they are, in theory—supported by B.C. employment standards,” Lim told the Straight during a break at the forum.
In the report, titled Access to Justice for Migrant Workers in B.C., the WCDWA outlined proposals to address “inequalities and gaps” in the program regarding the protection of workers. A number of these involve provincial legislation.
One recommendation is for B.C. to amend its Labour Relations Code to allow sectoral representation for workers in the absence of unions.
Another is for the province to look at Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act. This law provides a registration system for both employers and recruiters. It also prohibits the collection of fees from foreign workers in exchange for recruiters finding employment for them.
Although it is illegal in B.C. to charge workers for placing them in jobs, Lim explained that there are “loopholes” in the B.C. Employment Standards Act that allow recruiters to ask for “advertising” fees.
The WCDWA report also recommended strengthening employment standards to ensure a “more pro-active approach” to enforcement in sectors that rely on migrant labour.
Initial figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada indicate that in 2012, 49,488 foreign workers arrived in B.C. out of a nationwide total of 213,516, the report noted. This makes the province the second-largest host of temporary workers, after Ontario.