Canadian Employers Come Under Scrutiny for Treatment of Foreign Workers
By Sharaf Sultan
The Globe and Mail recently reported that Mexican government officials have warned a variety of employers in British Columbia that they could lose hiring privileges if they do not improve the employment conditions of Mexican seasonal agricultural workers.
These workers are brought into Canada on an annual basis under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The program is jointly administered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (“HRSDC”) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) and allows Canadian agricultural employers to hire workers from Mexico and various Caribbean nations on a purely seasonal basis. The program has expanded so that there are now several thousand seasonal agricultural employees from Mexico and the Caribbean working in British Columbia. The program requires employers to co-operate with both Canadian and Mexican government officials in order to both assess and monitor workers’ conditions on an ongoing basis.
As part of this process Mexican authorities reviewed hundreds of employment sites across British Columbia, including but not limited to greenhouses and vineyards. The review resulted in various accusations against employers, including those relating to overcrowded housing, a lack of smoke alarms, as well as non-compliance with minimum wage legislation. The problem has grown to the point where at least 10 employers have been forced to transfer workers from their sites to other operations in the province.
This story serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of good practices in both the hiring and employment of foreign workers. This issue is becoming relevant to more Canadian employers as the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada continues to increase exponentially. In response, the Canadian government, through agencies such as HRSDC and CIC, are scrutinizing the conduct of employers who employ foreign workers. Non-compliance with legislative and/or program requirements can and does often lead to serious consequences for employers, including but not limited to restrictions from hiring foreign workers, monetary penalties, and in the extreme, imprisonment.