Early in October, the Globe and Mail reported that some trucking companies, primarily based in Surrey, B.C., are profiting from abuse of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the immigrant workers they hire. I was interviewed for the story, which was not news to our association. What I said is worth elaborating, since the negative impact on our industry by a small subset of unsafe carriers is both disheartening and unnecessary: we urgently need higher standards, harder and faster enforcement, and more information for carriers and the immigrant drivers caught in the net.
To briefly restate the problem: some B.C. trucking companies, in collusion with bogus immigration consultants, are hiring TFWs without any experience driving heavy trucks in their homeland or Canada and sending them out in conditions with loads they aren’t properly trained to handle. Their drivers may not speak English and/or be aware of safe practices; they may have paid the carrier and the consultant for the job; and they may be paid less than accepted rates for their work and made to flout hours-of-service and other safety requirements, without access to employment rights all workers in Canada can expect.
At minimum, carriers applying to the TFW program should have to comply with National Safety Code (NSC) certification requirements. B.C.’s transportation ministry has several initiatives to promote compliance, including oversight of inactive NSC certificates (to prevent unsafe, non-compliant carriers from switching certificates) and ensuring new NSC applicants pass an NSC knowledge test. Both laudable initiatives that remain languishing, only partially implemented.
That B.C. still needs a mandatory entry-level training (MELT) standard for Class 1 drivers is not news, but an established standard should be the baseline that immigrant drivers hired through the TFW program must meet.
However, neither NSC nor training standards can be meaningful without enforcement. The 2018 B.C. Auditor General’s report on commercial vehicle safety says that, while there is a well-defined process for carrier safety interventions in B.C., audits triggered for non-compliant carriers haven’t been carried out in a timely manner. In 2016, 46% of inspections intended to be complete within three to six months of being triggered hadn’t been started a year or more later.
In fairness, it’s clear from the Globe and Mail report that some of the carriers manipulating the TFWP are operating entirely outside the law and difficult to track. It’s also clear that we urgently need to prevent scofflaws from entering and staying in trucking, for the safety of all road users.
Earlier this year, the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) partnered with MOSAIC to deliver an outreach program through the federal Migrant Worker Support Network. Since June 2019, I’ve been speaking at BCTA events throughout our province about the rights of foreign workers, what employer obligations are and who workers can turn to if they are mistreated. We’ll continue this campaign into 2020.
Direct action is needed to combat the abuse that some have practiced within the TFWP framework. Some strategies, like MELT, are coming. Others, including systems for hard enforcement of carriers and “consultants” manipulating the program should be reviewed and implemented now. We all suffer when miscreants are allowed to damage a program meant to benefit Canadian businesses and immigrants legitimately trying to start a better life.
Dave Earle is president & CEO of the B.C. Trucking Association. He has extensive experience in government and labor relations, occupational health and safety training and consulting, administration of substance abuse testing and treatment programs, and workers’ compensation. Earle holds a B.A. in communications/political science from Simon Fraser University.