A forum to discuss Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers program drew about two dozen people to Semiahmoo Library last weekend.
The two-hour event was the first of what is intended to be a provincewide series on the issue, said organizer Stuart Lyster, retired minister of Sunnyside United Church.
Lyster said the federal government has “created a mess” of the temporary foreign workers program. Created to help fill jobs that aren’t being filled by Canadians, changes – including recent enforcement of the “four in, four out” rule – have morphed it into “this kind of incredibly complex thing that might not even be serving employers that want to have a stable workforce,” Lyster said.
“It’s become a nightmare to administer and the federal government is not providing the proper oversight, it’s not providing the legislative framework.”
Saturday’s forum included Vancouver-Kensington NDP MLA Mable Elmore – whose office is co-ordinating the forums – Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg, a labour-immigration lawyer and a representative of MigranteBC, a B.C.-Filipino advocacy group that worked with Leticia Sarmiento, the nanny at the centre of a high-profile human trafficking case.
Lyster said some local TFWs also attended, as did an opponent of the program as a whole.
One woman spoke to challenges created when the live-in caregiver program was folded into the TFW program. Lyster said the change means live-in caregivers can no longer apply for permanent status after two years, but instead must leave the country after four years and can’t return for four years. As well, the caregiver must now show they have a physical address apart from the home they work at.
The barriers are frustrating families and workers alike, Lyster said.
He said yet another issue with the program is that temporary foreign workers are having Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance premiums deducted from their paycheques, “and don’t have a hope of ever participating in CPP and EI.”
“Somebody keeps reinventing a way to take money from workers without any benefit to the workers. That’s the need for these forums – it just gets wild.”