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Tory rules on hiring foreign workers hit

New rules for hiring temporary foreign workers in Canada, which the government says are supposed to "strengthen the integrity" of the program, still leave migrant workers open to exploitation and make it harder for businesses to grow, critics in Manitoba say.

Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that kicked in Dec. 31 give federal officials the power to inspect workplaces without a warrant. Employers must keep their paperwork for six years from the time a worker is hired and ensure their workplace is free of abuse. Employers who break the rules may be put on an official blacklist and not allowed to hire temporary foreign workers for two years.

"All those changes... sound really nice, but the major component of the program is it allows migrants to be indentured to that specific employer because of the work permit," said Diwa Marcelino, the Manitoba spokesman for Migrante Canada, an alliance of Filipino migrant and immigrant organizations.

"Unlike other Canadian workers, if they feel mistreated, they cannot change jobs. Foreign workers still don't have that right," he said. "These are the issues that create the exploitative nature of the temporary foreign worker program. The rest of these reforms are Band-Aids."

The government can now suspend and revoke, or refuse to process Labour Market Opinions if employers are found breaking the rules. The government is now charging employers $275 for the required Labour Market Opinion that shows whether there is a need for a foreign worker to fill a job and that no Canadian worker can do the job.

"I understand what the government is trying to accomplish," said Chuck Davidson, chief executive officer of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. The government doesn't want to be seen encouraging outsourcing jobs and employers choosing foreign workers over Canadians.

Hiring a temporary foreign worker isn't an employer's first choice, Davidson said. "It's usually a last-gasp measure if they can't find the employees they need with the skill sets they need," Davidson said.

"The additional challenges with the program are making it more difficult in terms of the process," he said.

The union representing workers at Brandon's Maple Leaf plant and Neepawa's HyLife Foods hog-processing facility worries the federal government is punishing good employers to score political points by promising to punish bad ones.

The $275 fee per temporary foreign worker application "grossly increases" the costs to the companies that recruit hundreds of employees from abroad, said Jeff Traeger, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832.

"These jobs are not getting applied for or filled by Canadians," Traeger said. Temporary foreign workers are filling them and putting down roots here, he said. That's because, unlike many other provinces, Manitoba's Provincial Nominee Program offers workers who stay a path to citizenship. Traeger fears the federal government will soon block that path.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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