Raising awareness to improve the rights of Temporary Foreign Workers.
Benefits of Temporary Foreign Workers
Many of us understand immigrants are vital to our economy and wellbeing. Immigrants play many different roles within our society and communities. One key finding is the ongoing role immigrants play in filling the gaps in the Canadian labor market.
Each year, Canada depends heavily on one group of migrants: Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs). One group of TFWs are known as Seasonal Agricultural Workers or Migrant Farm workers in the media. These individuals arrive in Canada, often from Mexico and several Caribbean countries, to work in Canada, particularly in farming communities.
Over the last twenty plus years, the amount of TFWs increased seven fold. From a total of 111,000 TFWs arriving in 2000 to over 777,000 TFWs arriving in 2021 (Statistics Canada, 2022). In Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) oversee the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Individuals go through a selection process and if the assessment is positive, the TFW will receive a work permit. This permit enables the individual to work for a Seasonal Agricultural Assessment Worker Program (SAWP) employer, under established working conditions. A work permit can be valid from January 1 to December 15; however, it cannot exceed a maximum duration of employment of 8 months.
Challenges faced by individuals in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program/ Migrant Workers
The job of migrant farm workers is essential to all individuals in Canada. They help ensure we have food on our tables, and this work is critical in keeping the Canadian economy afloat. Some advocates also highlight that even though migrant farm workers play an integral role in our lives, they are faced with many challenges. There are continued concerns of poor living and working conditions, as well as limited access to health care for many of these workers. These issues have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
Year after year, advocates call on the federal government to hold employers responsible to improve the conditions for migrant farm workers. These workers have a fear of job loss should they raise their voices or concerns. In many cases these individuals leave families behind in their home countries who are relying on them financially. In an open letter emailed to the Jamaican Observer newspaper, migrant workers in Canada outlined many of the challenges they are facing:
"When we call our liaison officers for help, they do not respond to us or worse, they take our bosses' side and put a red mark next to our name, so we are not hired back anywhere next season. This fear is what stops us and our fellow migrant farm workers from speaking up for our rights as workers and humans."
Response from the Federal government
In September 2022, after increased awareness around issues pertaining to the rights and protection of Temporary Foreign Workers, the federal government made amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection regulations. They have introduced thirteen new regulations to strengthen protection of TFWs.
“In Canada, the rights of all workers—including temporary foreign workers—are protected by law. The International Mobility Program (IMP) sets requirements and conditions for hiring TFWs in Canada and issues open work permits to vulnerable employees who are experiencing unjust work environments so they can quickly find new employers. With these new regulations in place, the Government of Canada is strengthening its ability to protect temporary foreign workers and is enhancing its capacity to prevent potential mistreatment or abuse during TFWs period of employment in Canada.” – The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser.
International Migrants Day
The United Nations recognizes International Migrants Day on December 18th each year. This day serves as a reminder that migrants, who are leaving their homes and families behind for better opportunities, are also bettering our lives and communities. Migrants in Canada are important to us and provide essential services for us, our families, and our economy.
How can child welfare professionals support TFWs
As a child welfare professional, you may meet individuals, who are here in Canada as temporary foreign workers. We recommend you understand their immigration status, ask them about their needs, and share information to raise awareness of their rights. You can assist them by directing them to: Temporary foreign workers: Your rights are protected - Canada.ca.
If you are unsure of how to best support your client(s), and require further assistance, please reach out to us at CWICE.
905-363-6131 ext. 2222
For further reading on the issues faced by migrant farm workers:
About the author:
Celistine Frampton is a Child Protection Worker and Immigration Specialist at Peel Children’s Aid Society in the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence. Celistine holds a diploma in Journalism and a Bachelors of Social Work Degree. She has a passion for writing, research and advocacy work.