The Conservative government is beefing up its blacklist of Canadian employers with a plan to include not only businesses found to have broken temporary foreign worker program rules, but also provincial labour laws.
The move is the latest in a series of policy changes responding to allegations of abuse related to the foreign worker program.
(What is the temporary foreign worker program?Read The Globe's easy explanation)
The expanded powers are contained in the Conservative government's latest omnibus budget bill, which was introduced late last week. The enforcement of labour law is primarily a provincial responsibility and enacting the change will require information-sharing agreements between Ottawa and the provinces, something Employment Minister Jason Kenney has recently said he is working toward.
But more than four months after Mr. Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced major changes to the TFW program, employers are concerned that the new rules are still unclear.
Garth Whyte, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada, said it would be "devastating" for any business to be added to a blacklist, but important questions remain as to the government's plans. Mr. Whyte says abusive employers should be named, but his organization is concerned that honest mistakes could land a business on the blacklist, given the lack of clarity over the government's changes.
"The devil's in the details and the details haven't been worked out yet," he said. "All legitimate businesses won't be on that blacklist, but the issue is how do we ensure that those trying to use the program in good faith are not put on a blacklist. I think that's the big issue."
For years, Immigration Canada maintained a TFW program employer blacklist that had no employers on the list. The government said that was due to a technicality in the wording and a new list was launched this year on the website of Employment and Social Development. That list currently names four employers, all of which were added between April and June of 2014.
Three of the four employers are in the restaurant sector, including an owner of three McDonald's franchises in Victoria. One of the most sweeping aspects of the June changes was a provision that effectively bans all employers in the accommodation, food services and retail sectors from accessing the temporary foreign worker program unless they are in a region where unemployment is below 6 per cent.
Since the broad changes were announced in June, the government has published a discussion paper outlining a detailed list of potential infractions that would trigger fines of varying amounts. The government also proposes bans of varying lengths in terms of access to foreign workers.
The changes in the latest government budget bill would give Ottawa the power to list employers convicted "under any other federal or provincial law that regulates employment or the recruiting of employees." Currently the blacklist is limited to employers found to be in violation of federal immigration law.
A spokesperson for Mr. Kenney said the changes in the budget bill follow through on the overall changes announced in June.
NDP MP Jinny Sims said the government regularly announces tougher rules in response to controversy, but then fails to follow through with proper enforcement to ensure that employers are in compliance.
"Repeatedly, they have failed to genuinely stop abuse of this program," she said. "They always adopt half-measures in response to media stories when they get caught, but it seems that even when they have rules, they're unwilling to enforce them."
Editor's note: Unemployment must be below (not above) 6 per cent for employers in accommodation, food services and retail to access the TFW program.