This final chapter of Part I, on Canada’s temporary foreign worker
programs, will address outstanding aspects of worker experience that demand
changes to program stipulations or government practices. In particular, access
to benefits and social insurance, and residence will be examined.
Temporary foreign workers are entitled to a range of social
programs during their stay in Canada and, in some instances, after their return
to their country of origin (see Box 1). Testimony heard by the Committee
indicates that, even when informed, workers sometimes have difficulty accessing
these benefits. This problem stems, in part, from program requirements such as
residence in Canada, and in part from non-compliance by employers. The
following anecdotes provide a sample of what the Committee heard:
In December 2005 I was with Javier, a [seasonal
agricultural] worker, before, during, and after he had his second full stroke,
which was provoked by a workplace accident, something that may have been
prevented or minimized had he had access to a CAT scan after his first stroke
only days earlier. But because he was a temporary worker, B.C. still had not
given him MSP provincial health coverage, so he did not get the appropriate
medical attention he needed. His employer… was prepared to send him back as he
was, after the first stroke, partially paralyzed at that moment. Only because
we stayed with him was he able to get medical attention. However, he is now
back in Mexico, permanently disabled for life, without the proper medical
attention or financial support.
Alicia is a widow whose husband had chemicals
spill on him at work in an Ontario greenhouse. The employer would not even
allow him to take a shower after the spill; much less take him for needed
medical follow-up. Based on this chemical spill, he had complications from
which he later died. Alicia receives no compensation from either the Mexican or
Canadian government for this.
Box 1: Temporary Foreign
Worker Eligibility for Benefits and Social Insurance
Employment Insurance (EI): Temporary
foreign workers and their employers make payments into EI just like Canadian
workers. However, they are not usually eligible for basic benefits, due to the
number of qualifying hours required or the requirement to be available for work
in Canada. Temporary foreign workers are eligible for the parental leave and
compassionate care benefits available through EI.
Workers Compensation: Workers
compensation is awarded on the basis of evidence of disability from recognized
medical practitioners and other care providers. If a worker becomes permanently
injured and qualifies for the benefit, it can be collected from anywhere. If a
worker is not permanently injured, his or her availability for work in the
province of injury may affect on-going benefits.
Canadian Pension Plan (CPP): Temporary
foreign workers and their employers pay into CPP just like Canadian workers. Temporary
foreign workers are eligible to apply for their CPP benefits from anywhere in
Health Care: Temporary foreign workers
are covered by provincial health insurance in most provinces, although coverage
varies by the length of the work permit. In some provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick, a three month waiting period applies
for all new residents. The employer is responsible for ensuring that a foreign
worker has medical coverage for periods not covered by provincial insurance.
The requirement that EI recipients be available for work in Canada is one factor that makes it difficult for workers to avail themselves of this
insurance during periods of unemployment. Despite this reality, workers and
employers make regular EI contributions. The Committee believes that the
current mis-match between EI premiums paid and the benefits temporary foreign
workers are likely to be able to derive from the program has to be rectified. With
the provision of the common emergency fund, as set out in Recommendation 21,
there will be no further need for workers to continue paying into EI.
The Committee recommends that the Employment Insurance Act be
reviewed by the Finance Committee so that consideration be given to the
exemption of temporary foreign workers and their employers from making
contributions to employment insurance.
Location may also affect the ability of an injured worker to
benefit from workers compensation. Sometimes the worker does not have time to
have his or her health situation assessed for workers’ compensation before
leaving the country (voluntarily or involuntarily). It is very difficult in
this situation to have the benefits applied retroactively. One witness spoke
about the impact of a different reality of health care in other countries: “the
current system does not always take into account the difficulties workers,
especially those in remote areas, experience just to get to a qualified doctor
or to pay for appointments, exams, and reports.” Regular medical appointments may be required to demonstrate the on-going need
Workers also may not receive adequate injury or disease
compensation because of the current nature of their work permits. If a worker’s
injuries do not allow him or her to carry out the type of work required in his
or her sector, the worker will not be employable within the parameters of his
or her work permit in Canada. Workers compensation would not be available for
the long term for a worker in this situation.
The Committee feels that Canada and its provinces and territories
should not abandon workers who are injured or who become ill as a result of
employment in Canada. Several witnesses noted that temporary foreign workers
tend to be employed in sectors with high injury rates, such as farming,
construction, and manufacturing. A
temporary foreign worker should experience the same care and opportunities as a
permanent resident or Canadian citizen injured or diseased at the workplace. The
Committee believes that this problem requires specific study by a federal body.
In the meantime, we support giving injured and/or sick foreign workers access
to a medical exam before they leave Canada. This initial assessment will help
identify injuries or disease caused by the workplace and is the first step to
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada conduct a review of the adequacy of workers’ compensation for temporary foreign workers and
the barriers they and their families encounter in receiving full compensation. The
review should include recommendations and a model statute that would address
current deficiencies, if required.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, through the Interim Federal Health Program, offer injured and/or sick temporary foreign
workers a free medical exam before returning to their country of origin.
Location may also affect the rate of application for CPP benefits
by temporary foreign workers. While they may be informed of the CPP deduction
and benefit when they enter Canada, for most, it will be many years before they
will be able to claim their pension. Temporary foreign workers are often in
their prime working years, and by the time they are eligible to apply may have
lost all contact with Canada. While it is the beneficiary’s responsibility to
apply in writing for CPP, Service Canada mails a statement of contribution and
other information to a segment of contributors each year. Provided the home
address is current and on file, temporary foreign workers may receive this
package. The Committee feels that better efforts are required to communicate
with workers about their benefits once they have left the country.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada create a web portal for people who were at one time temporary foreign workers in Canada. This web portal could include information on how to access benefits from outside of
the country, including forms and contact information for the relevant government
Finally, the Committee heard about employers who frustrate worker
attempts to obtain benefits through non-cooperation or non-compliance with LMO
conditions, such as the requirement to obtain health insurance. Allegations
ranged from withholding worker health cards to sending injured workers home
without having the opportunity to see a doctor. The Committee believes that our
recommendations to improve information provision and employer monitoring will
help to diminish these occurrences. However, this may be an area for the
recommended temporary foreign worker advisory board to monitor closely.
Employers have different obligations when it comes to housing
temporary foreign workers. As required in connection with their work permit,
live-in caregivers must live in their employer’s residence, and seasonal
agricultural workers must live in a residence provided by the employer
(generally on the farm property). Employers of workers with lower levels of
formal training have to ensure that housing is available. It is not unusual for
employers to purchase housing and rent it out to fulfill this obligation. Employers
of other categories of foreign workers, for instance, highly skilled, have no
obligations to provide or assist with housing.
While these program requirements were likely instituted with the
good intentions of facilitating access to work and ensuring that workers with
limited means had housing, witnesses told the Committee of their adverse
consequences. The concerns raised dealt primarily with the adequacy and
condition of housing made available, the rates charged for
this housing, and the vulnerability of workers required to live on their
worksite with their employer. Many witnesses shared stories of housing that was
inadequate, crowded, in poor condition, or not suitable as a residence.
The report of the Temporary Worker Advocate in Alberta focused on
problems in relation to employer-owned housing rented out to workers with lower
levels of formal training. This anecdote, cited in the report, is similar to
others shared with the Committee: “Eight [temporary foreign workers] were
placed in one 3-bedroom house and each person was deducted $250 biweekly
($4,000 per month); in another, 14 [temporary foreign workers] were placed in
one house paying rent of $320 per month ($4,480).”
The Committee heard strong opposition to the requirement for
workers to live on their worksite with their employer. Witnesses felt that this requirement, for live-in caregivers in particular,
places the workers at risk. Living with the employer may contribute to a
caregiver’s isolation, increasing her vulnerability to abuse and limiting her
ability to seek assistance.
Witnesses also felt that this provision violates the rights of
temporary foreign workers. In particular, witnesses cited the rights to privacy
under section 5 of the Quebec Charter, to freedom of association, to equality
(because it does not apply to non-migrants) and to freedom and security of the
person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Committee believes that it is unconscionable to require workers
to live in accommodations provided by the employer without being sure that
these accommodations meet Canadian standards. Rather than making
recommendations that would address this oversight, however, the Committee
prefers to move away from the live-in or on-site residence requirement
altogether. The Committee believes that temporary foreign workers should have
the same freedom of residence as Canadians.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada remove the requirement that individuals with certain work permits live with or on the
premises of their employer.
However, there are principles from the current requirements that
the Committee feels should be retained. In particular, if housing is scarce
(e.g., in a rural area), the employer should be required to ensure suitable
housing is secured for the worker. Since
temporary workers may have few connections in Canada, they may not be able to
secure housing initially or in difficult market conditions. It follows that
housing provided should be inspected, to ensure that standards are met. In
order for the monitoring teams to carry out the random spot checks suggested in
Recommendation 28, information on housing provided should be collected on the
“hiring permit” application.
In order to call home to their families in Mexico,
they had to sneak off the farm late at night and walk to the nearest pay
telephone located a substantial distance away.
Several witnesses who appeared before the Committee told of workers
who had great difficulty seeking help because they were located in remote
regions (generally on farms) and simply did not have access to a telephone. The
Committee notes that such workers would likely also be unable to keep in touch
with family and friends in their home countries, which we see as a senseless
hardship. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that employers who provide housing
for temporary foreign workers should also provide a working telephone for the
use of the workers as a standard aspect of basic housing. Long distance charges
may be borne by the workers through the use of calling cards or other such
services. By requiring employers to confirm on the “hiring permit” application
that telephone access is available to workers, and requiring them to provide
the phone number, government agents will be able to efficiently monitor
employment standards to a certain degree simply by phoning the worker and
conducting a brief interview.
The Committee recommends that, in respect of those employers who
propose to house temporary foreign workers, the Government of Canada grant “hiring permits” only upon the employer undertaking to provide the worker(s) with
access to basic phone service.
The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada include a housing section on the “hiring permit” application. The employer would need to
indicate: 1. If housing will be provided; 2. If it includes telephone access.