BC Introduces Legislation To Better Protect Temporary Foreign Workers From Exploitation

Migrant farm workers in strawberry fields. (Mark Miller/Getty Images)

"Workers coming to B.C. want to feel safe, confident their rights are protected, and that abusive employers will be held accountable," said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. "The exploitation of anyone working in our province runs against the values of British Columbians. We need to shut any door that allows recruiters or employers to wilfully ignore and abuse the rights of workers in this province."

VICTORIA – The BC government brought in legislation this week to better protect people coming to work in B.C. under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Under the new legislation, they will have better protection against exploitation and abuse as a result of new legislation that has been introduced.

"Workers coming to B.C. want to feel safe, confident their rights are protected, and that abusive employers will be held accountable," said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. "The exploitation of anyone working in our province runs against the values of British Columbians. We need to shut any door that allows recruiters or employers to wilfully ignore and abuse the rights of workers in this province."

If passed by the legislature, the legislation will improve protection for workers and accountability of recruiters and employers by:

* requiring foreign worker recruiters to be licensed, and employers who recruit and hire temporary foreign workers to be registered.

* establishing criteria for issuing, refusing, suspending or cancelling a licence or registration.

* imposing tougher penalties for recruiters and employers who violate the legislation, including not just loss of licence or registration but financial penalties and possible jail time.

* allowing government to recover, and return to workers, any fees charged illegally by recruiters.

* creating two registries, one for foreign worker recruiters and one for employers, to hold both accountable for their actions and to improve government response to health, housing or other violations of B.C. laws. The registration will be a cost-free and simple online process for employers.

In 2017, the federal government issued approximately 47,620 work permits for foreign nationals destined for B.C., of which 16,865 were issued under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. B.C. is second to only Ontario in terms of the number of work permits issued.

Once the legislation receives royal assent, the Ministry of Labour will take next steps to establish the foreign worker recruiter and employer registries.

“We support the legislation because it includes a number of concrete measures, like mandatory licensing of recruiters and registration of all employers relying on TFWs, that will better protect workers from abuse,” says BCFED President Irene Lanzinger. 

“In addition, the promise of resources for inspection and enforcement along with the prospect of significant financial penalties, exclusion from the program, and potential jail time for violations should be powerful incentives for employers and recruiters to follow the rules and treat workers with respect and decency.”

Despite widespread situations of exploitation, Lanzinger says the previous BC Liberal government did nothing to protect temporary foreign workers from abuse.  “So we are pleased that Minister Bains is taking action to fulfill an important election pledge,” says Lanzinger. “It’s another way the NDP government is making life better for workers in our province.

“TFWs who come to Canada under this program harvest the food we need to sustain ourselves.  They are the people who raise our families and care for our elderly—they are an integral part of our community.  We need to do better by them,” says Lanzinger.

Lanzinger says the Federation is committed to working with Bains and the NDP government in drafting regulations that will set up the new registries and monitoring and enforcement measures.

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