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Employment Minister Jason Kenney stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Sept. 24, 2014. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Employment Minister Jason Kenney stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Sept. 24, 2014. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa seeks tougher stand on firms that break new foreign-worker rules Add to ...

The federal government is considering lifetime bans and heftier fines on employers found to have violated its new regulations on temporary foreign workers.

In a discussion paper posted overnight on the Employment and Social Development website, the government proposes permanent bans in addition to expanding penalties to include one-, five– and 10-year moratoriums that would forbid businesses from applying for temporary foreign workers.

Currently there are only two-year bans imposed on companies that have broken the rules.

(What is the temporary foreign worker program? Read The Globe’s easy explanation)

The names of the banned employers would be made public, the proposals state. There are currently four companies listed on the government’s so-called TFW public blacklist, with no new additions since early June, three weeks before Employment Minister Jason Kenney unveiled his crackdown on the program.

In efforts to deliver on that overhaul, the feds are also now proposing minimum fines of $500 to a maximum of $100,000 for serious violations – in particular those that have resulted in a significant financial benefit to an employer.

The length of the ban would depend upon the type of violation, the employer’s history of compliance, the severity of the violation and the size of the business, the paper states.

The government is asking stakeholders for their input into the proposals. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 16.

Stakeholders and critics say they’re puzzled by the proposals, wondering why the government hasn’t been taking such measures for years.

“This is the kind of thing they should have been doing right from the start,” said Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“My hope is that if they go down this road, maybe they can unwind some of the terrible reforms that they made in the summer that are unfairly penalizing companies that haven’t done anything wrong.”

The overhaul, Kelly added, continues to target the restaurant sector. He says 12 fast-food restaurant proposals were recently shelved in Alberta due to the province’s labour shortage.

“So we’re missing out on economic development, we’re losing out on growth and growing our tax base as a result of these heavy-handed changes.”

Western premiers, including Alberta’s newly elected Jim Prentice, have complained that the government’s overhaul has been too onerous. Prentice is a former federal cabinet colleague of Kenney’s.

The western leaders say their provinces are grappling with low unemployment rates and facing genuine shortages of skilled labour, requiring temporary foreign workers to fill the void.

Jinny Sims, the NDP’s employment critic, also questioned why the government hadn’t been imposing such penalties for years. She also raised concerns about enforcing the tougher rules.

“Despite their grand claims of reform, this paper reveals how pitifully little the Conservatives have actually done to fix the program,” she said.

“The sanctions also depend on catching violators, and the discussion paper says not all inspections will involve a site visit, so once again they’re going to rely on paperwork. …how do you judge from a piece of paper? It makes no sense.”

The government is also proposing penalizing employers even if their failure to comply was unintentional – for example, an accounting error that results in a temporary foreign worker being underpaid.

The federal government says it’ll want to start assessing the circumstances surrounding a company’s non-compliance when determining the amount of the fine or the length of the ban “so there is still an incentive for the employer to take corrective action.”

“Right now, if an employer is caught withholding wages, they can quickly pay the worker and get away with it,” Sims said. “Why is the government only trying to crack down on this practice now?”

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