Temprary foreign workers. (Photo via Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association)

Ontario farmers like proposal to improve programs for migrant workers

Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers are welcoming recommendations to resolve systemic labour issues faced by temporary foreign workers (TFW).

“The proposed commission with centralized services is in line with what fruit and vegetable growers have long been asking for – the creation of a one-stop shop for more efficient delivery of TFW services for both employers and workers,” said Chair of the Labour Committee at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) Bill George. “Mistreatment of workers is unacceptable and as an industry, we have long been committed to the continuous improvement of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs to ensure all workers have the opportunity for a positive, safe work experience while in Canada.”

Canada's Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released six recommendations in a report on Tuesday, including urging the federal government to form a third-party Commission to address systemic issues among migrant workers.

The committee said in the report it would like to see the independent, arms-length commission coordinate policy, respond to employers and migrant workers, and recommend government policy reforms, including a commissioner for migrant workers, a commissioner for employers, and representation from the federal government.

A Senate committee started studying issues faced by workers and employers in November 2022.

Committee Chair Senator Ratna Omidvar said the current system falls short of serving anyone.

“No Canadian wants to determine that the product they are consuming is tainted by a labour chain that is exploited in any way,” said Omidvar.

Committee member Senator Rene Cormier said Canada’s TFW program is a victim of its own success, adding it drives increased dependency on the program to address labour shortages, while failing to develop a sense of responsibility and gratitude.

“Foreign workers must navigate a compounding bureaucracy to get here, and when they arrive, they lack basic protections that all Canadians enjoy,” Cormier said. "At the same time, employers get tangled in bureaucratic battles, leading to the late arrival of their workforce."

The proposed commission would serve as a one-stop shop for migrants who need help with their rights, and for employers needing help navigating the maze of red tape.

Omidvar called migrant labour administration an “alphabet soup of departments, agencies and organizations" that send inspectors to inspect and enforce various and overlapping compliance and enforcement systems, adding it's difficult to identify a particular organization or body responsible for ensuring standards are met.

The report also proposes to phase-in employer-specific permits with sector or region-specific work permits over three years to allow employees to leave abusive situations and give employers the flexibility to deploy workers where needed.

The Senate report said the Temporary Foreign Worker program was established 50 years ago to allow employers to bring foreign workers to Canada on a temporary basis to fill jobs that qualified Canadians were not available for and has become a key component for farms.

The program is open to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and the Eastern Caribbean Islands who come to Canada to work for a defined period of time before going home for the winter.

The OFVGA noted approximately 17,0000 seasonal workers come to Ontario every year for jobs on fruit and vegetable farms.

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