Nationwide regs sought on foreign worker recruitment

New legislation now in effect in Manitoba to regulate the recruitment of foreign workers is “long overdue” and should be introduced in all provinces, according to one major agri-food union.

Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act, which took effect Wednesday, prohibiting recruitment agencies from charging fees to imported workers and requires such recruitment agencies to register and be licensed with the province.

The act also requires both employers and recruitment agencies to submit detailed records about the place of employment, the workers’ duties and rate of pay, and up-to-date contact information for the worker.

“Manitoba is saying it’s not good enough for a recruitment agency to bring workers in, drop them off at some workplace, and then tell them to fend for themselves,” said Wayne Hanley, national president for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), in a release Wednesday.

Robert Ziegler, president of UFCW Canada Local 832, is a member of the committee that consulted on the development of the legislation.

“By keeping a registry of where these workers are, who recruited them, and what they were promised when they were hired, you finally have a jurisdiction with the political will and regulations to penalize and weed out employers and recruiters who abuse foreign workers,” Hanley said.

“Given our current economic climate, our first priority is to maximize the skills of our local labour supply by helping employers hire immigrants who are already in Manitoba,” provincial Labour Minister Nancy Allan said Tuesday in announcing the effective date of the Act.

“Where employers are unable to meet their labour needs locally, we can connect them directly with skilled workers through established international partnerships that are safe and effective.”

“Ethical manner”

The act is meant to facilitate employers’ worker recruitment activities in an “ethical and orderly manner,” Allan said.

“Through the registration process, we will know when temporary foreign workers are coming to the province and where they are employed so we can better ensure they receive the full protection of the act.”

Once employers are registered with the province, they will receive direct assistance with recruitment, the province said, adding that it will put in place a revised employer application process, which registered employers could use to connect with available immigrant workers both in Manitoba and abroad.

While not specifically mentioned by either the province or UFCW, the new legislation’s development and passage came in the wake of revelations in 2007 that over five dozen workers from China had been made to pay fees of up to C$11,500 each before coming to work at Maple Leaf Foods’ hog plant at Brandon.

Maple Leaf cut its ties to the immigration consulting firm that imported the workers and said it would explore other ways to recruit in China. The company said at the time that while the workers did get some training for the fees paid, there was “no transparency” to the fees and the packer was unaware its new workers were carrying these heavy debts.

(A spokesman for the affected workers told reporters in January that the fees were demanded by a Chinese company, not by the workers’ Canadian consultant.)

“Every other province should bring in similar legislation because the human rights of foreign workers in Ontario, or B.C. or any other province are the same,” Hanley said Wednesday, “and the potential abuse of temporary workers does not stop at the Manitoba border.”

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