Positive Changes for Foreign Workers’ Rights, Impacts on Agricultural Sector Less Clear

Nearly one quarter of workers in Ontario’s agricultural sector are foreign.
Jenn Pfenning of
Pfenning’s Organic Farm
(source: Pfenning’s Organic Farm)

Foreign workers in Canada have gained more mobility and freedom following an announcement by the federal government that foreign workers can now apply for open work permits instead of being tied to one employer. This is a positive step for workers’ rights and newcomer justice and will allow workers to escape abusive employment. “More freedom means better ability for the workers to avail themselves of their rights,” said Jenn Pfenning of Pfenning’s Organic Farm. “Workers should be as free to move as the goods they produce.  Employers who respect their people want their workers to be free to leave and stay because they choose to.”

The consequences for Ontario’s agricultural sector, where nearly one in four workers is foreign, are unclear. This change will introduce an occupation-specific work permit in the Primary Agriculture Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which includes the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). Ken Forth, who leads the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Service (FARMS), voiced concern noting that SAWP already allows workers to move to other farms through an established transfer process.

Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW)
(source: Mark Bochsler/CBC )

Other critics of the proposed changes argue that it does not do enough to protect foreign workers. “The federal government’s recent announcement does nothing to address the power imbalances that exist within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” said Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW), a grass-roots community group that organizes with and for migrant farm workers. “The structure of the program remains whereby migrant workers’ ability to work is incumbent on a tied work permit. Whether it’s tied to one employer or the industry, there is no labour or social mobility for migrant farm workers.”

With labour shortages in the sector and with potentially thousands of workers looking to change employers, significant questions remain regarding how quick and effective these new employment transitions can be administered and by whom.

Have Your Say on Changes to the TFWP

The federal government is seeking input from interested parties during a 30-day public comment period (deadline: Monday, July 21, 2019): 
All such submissions must cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, the date of publication of this notice (June 22, 2019), and be addressed to Uttara Chauhan, Director, Policy and Program Design, Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Employment and Social Development Canada, 140 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0J9 (email: [email protected]), and Jordan Thompson, Acting Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1 (email: [email protected]).

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