The federal government claims that it's "committed to reforming the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to ensure that Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs".
With more than 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, it's easy to see how that statement is being greeted with skepticism on the left.
On Tuesday (June 17), progressives will hold a free roundtable discussion on this topic—billed as TFW WTF?—starting at 6:30 p.m. at the YMCA Hotel (733 Beatty Street).
Moderated by Straight contributor and Mainlander writer Daniel Tseghay, the panel features representatives of Justice for Migrant Workers (Adriana Paz Ramirez), the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (Paul Finch), No One is Illegal (Tracey Mann), and David Fairey, former director of the Trade Union Research Bureau.
One of the biggest concernsis that temporary foreign workers face deportation if they're fired or they quit. And that gives employers a big stick in dealing with these employees.
The Straight's Carlito Pablo recently wrote about a new report by the West Coast Domestic Workers' Association, which called for several reforms.
The proposals included eliminating a requirement that employers must provide support for temporary foreign workers to qualify for provincial nominee programs. These are sometimes a route to permanent-resident status, which is a precursor to gaining citizenship.
The West Coast Domestic Workers' Association report also recommended taking away employers' legal right to identify which temporary foreign agricultural workers should be permitted to return the following season.
Meanwhile, Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney will soon announce changes to the program to calm down the growing public backlash.
The Globe and Mail recently reported that Kenney is considering a "major hike in the user fee for the program and a minimum 'wage floor' for TFWs".
If implemented, this could make it more difficult for low-wage employers to hire temporary foreign workers.
According to the Globe story, at least four Conservative MPs in Alberta are pushing Kenney to back off doing anything that will reduce the number of temporary foreign workers in their province.
The government has stated that it won't process labour-market opinions—which are required to bring in foreign workers—"if there is new information indicating that the employment of the foreign national in any portion, sector, region or occupational group of the labour market in Canada may or will have a significant negative effect on the Canadian labour market".
And last week, Kenney said that the government would commission Statistics Canada at $14 million per year to conduct surveys on wage rates and job vacancies.
This will reportedly help the government formulate policies to ensure that employers don't try to take advantage of the temporary foreign worker program.
In the meantime, Kenney has already announced that the government is refusing to process "labour-market opinions" in the food-services sector.
That caused a furious eruption in the fast-food industry, with McDonald's Canada's CEO calling the criticism of its reliance on the program as "bullshit".
But so far, Kenney's recent moves have done little to quell Opposition concerns that temporary foreign workers could still be exploited by Corporate Canada.
NDP employment and social development critic Jinny Sims has pointed out that the Conservative government has refused to back her party's call to have the program investigated by the auditor general.
"Only a complete audit can restore Canadians’ trust in the TFW program, which has gone so completely off the rails under the Conservatives," Sims said in a statement in April.
This issue will likely remain in the spotlight until the next federal election, which is expected in the fall of 2015.
There's been a great deal of media coverage of the temporary foreign worker program's impact on Canadians seeking employment.
Tomorrow night's roundtable discussion at the YMCA Hotel will give the progressive community a chance to learn more about its effect on foreign workers enrolled in the program.