After harsh criticism of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the government is taking action to close some of the loopholes in the program that have been abused by employers.

April 29, 2013, the government announced that they were scrapping the provision that allowed employers to pay foreign workers as much as 15% less than the average Canadian wage for a job. July 31, 2013 marks the introduction of a $275 processing fee for labour market opinions, and the new stipulation that English and French are the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement. It is also the month when employers will need to advertise available positions for a minimum period of one month using a minimum of at least four different recruitment methods.

These amendments are intended to encourage employers to work harder to hire qualified Canadians, and they are expected to decrease employer demand for temporary foreign workers by 30 percent. However, these changes are argued to be ineffective in decreasing the total number of foreign workers brought to Canada, due in part to the fact that employers overestimate their need for migrant workers and in part because these changes do not apply to agricultural workers, which make up the largest stream within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

According to the government, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program, the Agricultural Stream, and the on-farm primary agricultural positions are excluded because, “there are proven acute labour shortages in this industry and [because] the unfilled jobs are truly temporary.” While excluding the agricultural sector from the new rules may help businesses in the short-run sustain their operations, this exacerbates the problems that have led to a worker shortage: inadequate wages, long hours, denial of breaks, etc. In the long run, this perpetuates a market failure where the Canadian economy cannot generate enough of a labour supply to meet the demand.

Worse, agricultural workers are already some of the most vulnerable individuals within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Agricultural workers frequently report that they are affected by sub-standard wages, poor workplace safety standards, illegal payroll deductions, and inadequate housing, among other problems. In a sector where there are employer abuses, the government is expected to take action to address these concerns.

Agricultural workers are already the most vulnerable group within the temporary foreign worker program. Until the program changes, we are continuing to employ individuals within a system that ensures that Canadians benefit from the labour of migrant workers while denying those same individuals the rights and privileges associated with citizenship. In other words, we value the food on our table but not the workers who put that food on our table.