Government of Canada invests in measures to boost protections for Temporary Foreign Workers and Address
July 31, 2020
Employment and Social Development Canada
Since the very beginning of this pandemic, the Government of Canada has taken a number of important steps to ensure the safe arrival of farm workers, who play a vital role in preserving Canada’s food security. To protect the health and safety of Canadian and migrant farm workers, the Government has been working with municipal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as farmers, workers and other employers who participate in the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. Despite these efforts, there have been COVID-19 outbreaks on a number of Canadian farms that have significantly impacted the health and safety of workers.
That is why the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, today announced that the Government of Canada is taking additional action to reduce the incidence and impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. With an investment of $58.6 million, the Government is strengthening the TFW Program and making further investments to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19 by:
Investing $7.4 million to increase supports to temporary foreign workers, including $6.0M for direct outreach to workers delivered through migrant worker support organizations;
Strengthening the employer inspections regime, particularly on farms, and making improvements to how tips and allegations of employer non-compliance are addressed (such as by initiating an inspection) through an investment of $16.2 million; and
Investing $35 million to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19. This will go toward direct infrastructure improvements to living quarters, temporary or emergency housing (on- or off-farm), as well as PPE, sanitary stations, and any other health and safety measures. Non-repayable contributions will be cost-shared 50:50 with the applicants.
The Government will also work to develop mandatory requirements to improve employer-provided accommodations, focusing on ensuring better living conditions for workers. As a first step, the Government will consult with provinces and territories, employers, workers and foreign partner countries on a proposal for these mandatory requirements for the TFW Program in the months to come, and will work with those same partners to implement changes. Improvements to worker accommodations will also help reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 for foreign workers.
To support the response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 cases amongst temporary foreign workers in Windsor-Essex County, the Government of Canada is also currently collaborating with the Canadian Red Cross and the Province of Ontario to set up temporary housing for those affected in order to support them to self-isolate, in accordance with public health guidance. This work is being advanced under the Government’s previous commitment to provide up to $100 million to the Canadian Red Cross to support additional relief and recovery efforts this year related to COVID-19, floods and wildfires.
This spring, the Government of Canada published guidance for employers on how to manage the arrival and quarantining of exempt travellers to Canada, including temporary foreign workers to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19. In addition, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and the Minister of Health issued a letter to employers of temporary foreign workers outlining the Government of Canada’s expectations of employers.
As well, the Government put in place amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to hold employers accountable and to keep workers safe. These changes require employers to pay workers during their initial quarantine and ensure workers are able to observe the two-week quarantine period. To help these efforts, the Government of Canada announced the $50 million Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program to help farmers and food processors pay for the costs related to safely accommodating workers for the mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Today’s $35 million fund extends supports beyond the 14-day period.
While provinces and territories are responsible for setting health care, employment standards and housing requirements in the agriculture sector post-quarantine in their respective jurisdictions, the Government of Canada is committed to further federal action to help to reduce the incidence and impact of on-farm outbreaks, and protecting those who are part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
“From the very beginning of the pandemic, the health and safety of temporary foreign workers has been a top priority. Any unsafe working conditions are completely unacceptable. While we are proud of the worker protections we have in this country, we recognize that there are important issues that need to be addressed within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and we are taking action. We are working tirelessly to ensure that temporary foreign workers rights are protected in Canada.”
– The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
“We care deeply about the well-being of all farm workers, who are helping ensure the food security of Canadians. During the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19, we want to help farmers adapt and improve the employment conditions of all their employees as well as the living environment of temporary foreign workers.”
– The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
“We rely on temporary foreign workers for our food security and our planting season and we have a duty to keep them safe. We have taken prompt action to ensure that these workers can continue to arrive during the pandemic, to establish rules to keep them healthy and to make it easier for workers to switch employers to increase their job security. Clearly, there is still much to do and we will continue to strengthen and monitor these protections.”
– The Honourable Marco E.L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
“Managing the COVID-19 response, and in particular preventing infection in the most vulnerable populations is a responsibility shared by all orders of government, and the community at large. We are thankful to the Canadian Red Cross for their support and ability to quickly respond to this evolving situation, as well as to the agricultural community and migrant workers for their efforts to stamp out this outbreak.”
– The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Temporary foreign workers play a vital role in the Canadian economy with approximately 50,000 to 60,000 foreign agricultural, food and fish processing workers coming to work in Canada each year, which accounts for more than 60% of all foreign workers entering Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is the stream most commonly used by Agricultural Producers. In 2019, a total of 46,707 positions were approved under the SAWP, of which 12,858 were from the participating Caribbean countries, the rest were from Mexico.
Most foreign workers who work on farms are located in Ontario (40%), Quebec (32%), B.C. (18%) and Nova Scotia (2.6%)
As part of its actions to protect the health and safety of foreign workers, the Government of Canada has been working with provinces and territories, as well as a range of partners and stakeholders, to ensure employers and temporary foreign workers are aware of their obligations and respect the rules in place to help prevent the importation and spread of COVID 19 in Canada.
On April 13, the Government of Canada announced the $50 million Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program which provides farmers and food processors up to $1,500 per worker to help pay for the costs related to meeting the mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Eligible costs could include wages, food, benefits, transportation, housing, and other requirements to comply with the protocols under the Quarantine Act. In some cases, an employer’s costs may exceed the $1,500 federal contribution per temporary foreign worker.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is managed by Employment and Social Development Canada. Provinces and territories are responsible for most health, employment standards and housing requirements.