The federal government announced recently that they would be conducting more stringent and warrantless inspections of workplaces in order to crack down on human rights abuses and illegal practices. According to the Globe and Mail, they will have the power to “examine anything on the premises,” question employers and staff, request documents, use photocopiers to copy records, and take photographs or make video and audio recordings. Inspections are prompted if a government officer or the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development suspect an employer is not complying with the rules, if the employer has previously broken the rules, or if the business was chosen as a part of a random audit.
This news comes after years of scathing criticism of the human rights abuses within the Temporary Foreign Worker program. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, when the Alberta provincial government proactively conducted workplace inspections, inspectors found payroll violations in more than 50% of the targeted sites (peaking in January 2010 at 74%). Not only payroll violations, but testimonies from activists and migrant workers hint at other workplace violations that temporary foreign workers face, including inadequate safety training and equipment, incomplete education about their rights and workplace standards, and illegal work placement fees.
Wayne Hanley, the National President of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, commented that, “outside the union, TFWs are treated by thousands of employers like disposable commodities, with no respect for their safety or other workplace rights. The latest stats from Alberta back that up.”
The new federal warrantless inspections are a long overdue step towards the type of proactive inspections modeled by the Albertan government. As abuses within the program are reported by the temporary foreign workers themselves to the government, this means that businesses that threaten their workers with deportation and that withhold information about their rights continue to operate with impunity. By holding employers accountable for their actions, some of the more widespread abuses within the system will be addressed. Hopefully this is the only the first step in a series of many towards treating temporary foreign workers like how they are… individuals deserving of respect.