Jason Kenney details harsher penalties for foreign worker abuse

Employment Minister Jason Kenney is seeking feedback on stricter penalties for employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Lifetime bans, bigger fines among proposals in discussion paper posted Wednesday

Employment Minister Jason Kenney's department quietly released a discussion paper Wednesday evening with new proposals for even harsher penalties for abuse of the temporary foreign worker program. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Employment Minister Jason Kenney is seeking feedback on stricter penalties for employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

A discussion paper posted online Wednesday evening outlines proposals for stricter fines and a permanent ban on serious offenders.

The proposed changes were originally floated last spring as part of the government's budget implementation bill. The discussion paper provides more details on the process of suspending or revoking permits for companies that abuse the program would work, and calls for feedback on its plan from individuals and organizations.

The consultation period will run until Oct. 15, and after that the changes would be made through regulation and would not require further legislation in Parliament.

The rules will also apply to the Live-in Caregiver Program, according to the discussion paper. Reforms to that program are expected this fall.

The proposals come after an overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program last spring, which placed caps on the number of low-wage workers a company could hire and increased some fines and fees.

The discussion paper goes further, suggesting a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum of $100,000 for serious violations. 

"Penalty amounts would vary based on whether the employer is an individual or small business, or a large business or corporation, as well as the employer’s compliance history and the severity of the violation," according to the paper.

The proposals also include making offenders' names available on a public black list, and one-, five- and 10-year moratoriums on using the program.

Some stakeholders and critics said they are 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, told The Canadian Press.

"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."

Jinny Sims, the NDP's employment critic, 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 in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"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."

with files from The Canadian Press