A recent article in the Globe and Mail has shone a light on some very unsavory and unsafe practices that are occurring in our country when it in comes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). While many in the industry were aware of these issues and have been sounding alarm bells about the TFWP leading to abuse of workers, underpay, and unsafe business practices, the scale of the issue uncovered by the Globe was nevertheless alarming.
The article highlighted many cases where temporary foreign workers were steered into the trucking industry as a way to help them qualify for permanent residency. While the industry does need drivers, and when jobs can’t be filled with Canadian workers, temporary foreign workers is a program we support, the way it is being done by many firms is appalling, and must be stopped.
We have cases the Globe discovered, where so-called immigration consultants are charging potential drivers up to $55,000 to gain access to a trucking job. In many cases, these fees are split between the company and consultant. Many of these drivers are being steered towards jurisdictions that do not have mandatory entry-level training, so drivers can get licensed and on the road faster. B.C. appears to be the jurisdiction where this practice is most rampant, with 43% of the authorizations delved out by the feds from 2016 to 2018 being from there.
The investigation revealed that nearly a third of the companies that received authorizations had significant safety problems or were marginal operators, yet these 29 companies were approved to hire 291 foreign workers. Three of the companies did not even have a safety fitness certificate, which is a minimum requirement to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
One of the carriers was found to have underpaid employees in 2016, and was ordered to pay 37 workers $121,517, yet was still approved to hire 20 temporary foreign workers after this occurred. How can this be allowed to occur in a developed and progressive country like Canada?
That is the crux of our problem. The issue, like many of the issues that occur with regulations in this country, results from disjointed communication between the feds, the provinces and territories, and different government departments. If you want to hire a temporary foreign worker, companies must apply to the federal government, which will then approve or deny the authorization to hire them.
The feds will mainly look into whether you have tried to fill these positions with local workers first, before providing authorizations to hire. The provinces and territories look after carrier safety fitness ratings, and the feds, who approve the authorization to hire, do not even look into this. The Globe investigation clearly shows that they do not even appear to look into past employment practices. A story like this is yet another stain on the image of our industry, and is going to make it even harder to recruit new people.
The issue, as always, is that a small percentage of the industry is abusing this program, with the vast majority using the TFWP as a way to fill vacant jobs, while treating them fairly, paying them well, providing proper training and integrating the new worker and their family into their companies and communities.
While the industry and the public should be outraged, we need to ensure we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. This country was built on immigrants, and if we want to continue to expand our industry, we will continue to need to access immigrants. As an industry, we need to express our outrage to the feds and the provinces, and we must be willing to work with governments to encourage them to raise the barrier to entry into our industry.
We must have a national standard that governs carrier safety ratings, not individual standards from each province.
We must have increased communication from each jurisdiction and the feds, and we must increase the standards that are applied to allow authorizations for temporary foreign workers to be doled out.
Only carriers who have proven safety records should be allowed access to TFW’s. These carriers should also have documented safety and training programs in place, as well as a program to help transition these drivers, and their families into their companies and communities. To allow anything less is not only to fail our industry, it is to fail the new immigrants coming to our country, and the safety of all of us who operate on the roadways. If the regulators do not act quickly to solve this exposed issue, it would appear we have learned very little from the Humboldt Bronco’s tragedy. We should all expect better!
Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org