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Temporary Foreign Workers Program “basically slave labour,” according to workers' advocate


Since the mid-1970s, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) has grown exponentially. In a little over a decade (2000-2012), the program has grown nearly threefold: In 2012, the Canadian census accounted for 491,547 foreign temporary workers in Canada, compared with 177,701 in 2000.

Originally designed to bring in labourers to compensate for the lack of Canadian workers in many sectors, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program issues time-limited work visas. According to the Government of Canada, the TFWP allows Canadian employers to hire thousands of foreign workers every year “to fill immediate skills and labour shortages.” The government website also indicates that “Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” and that the program is always under review to ensure that job priority for Canadians is met.

But in pursuit of an expanded Canadian economy, is the welfare of temporary foreign workers, who are not guaranteed the same workers' rights as Canadian citizens and have a limited chance at gaining citizenship, taken into consideration?

In The End of Immigration?, a documentary that examines the TFWP in Canada, Alberta Federation of Labour workers' advocate Yessy Byl explained: “We have a system that is inherently engendering exploitation – it’s just inevitable. We set up a group of people who are brought to Canada to work […] so we’ve got basically slave labour, because [the temporary workers] can’t work legally somewhere else.” Contractual relations between employers and temporary workers specify who they are allowed to work for and where they are allowed to work.

Recently, on December 31, 2013, the government of Canada’s latest amendments to the TFWP came into effect. A proposal that would have prevented Canadian employers from reaping the benefits of the TFWP if they had criminal convictions in human trafficking, sexual assault of employees, or murder of an employee, was unsuccessful. 

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