Ottawa is stressing that it has already moved to beef up protections for temporary foreign workers, in the wake of CBC News reports this week on allegations of overcrowded accommodations for employees in western Labrador.

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“Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is committed to protecting all workers from abuse and exploitation,” Alexis Conrad, director general of the Temporary Foreign Worker Directorate, said in a statement.

The feds recently implemented a series of reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They became effective as of the end of 2013.

Those measures include:

  • a two-year ban for employers who are found to break the rules, with their name and address placed on a public “black list”;
  • the ability to review employer compliance for up to six years from the first day of employment of a temporary foreign worker;
  • on-site workplace visits at any time without a warrant, except in the case of private dwellings;
  • the power to revoke or suspend work permits already issued in some cases. This applies to all those issued after the end of 2013. 

In a Dec. 28 press release, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander lauded the new measures.

“These changes are part of a larger reform of the program that demonstrates our government’s commitment to protect foreign workers from the risk of abuse and exploitation,” Alexander said.

“One of the goals of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to deal with labour shortages on a temporary basis, and these reforms will help ensure that the program is used as intended.”

Search warrants executed in Labrador City

Ottawa issued a statement to reiterate the new measures after a CBC News story this week on the plight of foreign workers in western Labrador.

The Canada Border Services Agency is probing allegations that 26 foreign workers were housed in one Labrador City split-level residence, in violation of their employer’s agreement with the federal government.

CBSA agents executed search warrants at the home and Jungle Jim’s restaurant in Labrador City in November.

According to court documents obtained by CBC News, investigators are probing whether the business owners provided false information about living conditions in support of applications for labour market opinions, or LMOs.

LMOs are used to hire foreign employees in areas where there is a shortage of workers.

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The Canada Border Services Agency executed a search warrant in November 2013 at this Labrador City residence, as part of an investigation into housing arrangements for temporary foreign workers. (CBC)

No charges have been laid, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

The business owners deny the claims, blaming disgruntled former workers for spreading false stories.

But officials at the head office of the company that franchises Jungle Jim’s restaurants confirmed they received complaints, which they said were swiftly resolved.

“Our corporate office received correspondence in December of 2012 from some Jungle Jim's employees of Labrador City stating that there was overcrowding in the residence that they were housed,” Sean Brake of Safari Eatertainment said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

“The local operator was contacted and the problem was rectified in about a week by securing additional housing. The problem stemmed from the most severe short-term shortage of housing in the history of Labrador West.”

Brake indicated that Jungle Jim’s franchise operators have used the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for the past two and a half years.

“These workers are an asset to our restaurants and very important members of our overall team,” he said.

According to Brake, a compliance audit conducted under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in September 2013 at the Labrador City location found that the local franchise operators were 100 per cent compliant.