Canada is no longer in the good graces of the United Nations after a recent report denounced the country for “breeding slavery” in its temporary foreign worker (TFW) program.
According to the federal report "Positive Labour Market Impact Assessment," Canada approved over 196,000 TFW positions last year — a 78% increase from 2021 and 71% increase from 2019.
In the first quarter of 2023, Canadian companies hired roughly 60,000 temporary foreign workers — 75% higher than the same period last year.
Amid growing debate surrounding Canada’s unaffordable housing market, tensions continue to mount over how migrant workers can access sufficient accommodation.
Earlier this year, a Tim Hortons franchise owner tried to evict senior citizens from their apartments to make way for temporary foreign workers.
In 2022, D.P. Murphy Inc. purchased a residential building for recent TFW hires — near a Tim Hortons outlet in Souris, Prince Edward Island also operated by the company.
According to the federal government, companies that hire low-wage TFWs must ensure “suitable and affordable” housing is available.
Though one of the senior residents successfully appealed their eviction, Ahava Caecilia Kálnássy called the situation ‘deeply traumatizing.’
“It felt like as a Canadian citizen, even though I was foreign born, I had no rights, no job, no home. And I think that’s terrifying,” she told iPolitics.
“It’s very hard to put into words the degree of fear that I and the other tenants in the building felt knowing full well that there are not any other rentals in Souris. That fear of ending up homeless it’s terrifying.”
However, the report posited that dramatic growth in the migrant workforce was necessary to address labour shortages across Canada, especially in regions with unemployment exceeding 6%.
Statistics Canada estimates that TFW employees constitute one-sixth of Canada's agricultural workforce.
Food service and the accommodation industry can now temporarily hire migrant workers for 30% of its positions, spanning 270 days instead of 120. For other non-seasonal companies, they are capped at 20%.
These measures remain in place until October 30.
After spending two weeks in Canada, UN special rapporteur Tomoya Obokata claimed migrant workers are “exploited” and “abused” by Canadian employers.
"Agricultural and low-wage streams of the temporary foreign workers program constitute a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery," he told reporters on September 6.
As reported by the CBC, Obokata called Canada a cesspool for coerced labour, after fielding complaints over excessive work hours, no access to overtime pay or healthcare and living in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
"This creates a dependency relationship between employers and employees, making the latter vulnerable to exploitation," he said, suggesting their reluctance to report abuse or change employers stems from the fear of losing their work permit.
An Immigration Canada spokesperson refuted Obokata’s claim that migrant workers cannot change employers. They said workers can apply for an interim work permit that would receive a response within 10 to 15 days.
While Immigration Canada issues work permits for TFWs, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) administers the program.
An Employment Canada spokesperson told the CBC that they conduct random inspections to ensure employers are following the rules.
"If an employer fails to meet program requirements or conditions or does not cooperate during an inspection, consequences can be severe," said the spokesperson in a statement.
Obokata said the inspections happen infrequently and in some places take place via telephone.
Ultimately, he called on the feds to grant work permits that allow TFWs to switch employers freely, going as far as suggesting that Canada permit a pathway for their permanent residency.