The Trudeau government’s Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu signed off on recommendations allowing eight southwestern Ontario corporations to not face punishment for incorrectly hiring approximately 615 Mexican and Jamaican migrants under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program’s farmworker classification for five years — in contravention of labour regulations.

The foreign workers were hired to work in food processing plants, but were paid a farmworker’s wage of $14 an hour, four dollars less than the standard rate in food processing industry.

Subscriber-only Ottawa news outlet Blacklock’s Reporter obtained — through an access to information request — the memorandum Labour Minister Hajdu signed, and first broke the story at the end of last month.

The names of the companies that hired foreign farm workers for food processing jobs were redacted from the document (along with several other sections of the ten-page document).

“These eight employers have been using [Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program] workers for major food processing or packaging and, since 2013, have benefitted from an exception to the [Labour Market Impact Assessments] processing fee contrary to the [Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations],” says part of the memorandum addressed to Minister Hajdu back in February of 2018.

According to the labour department, the “employers were transparent” in their applications that they were hiring agricultural workers to do food processing work since 2013, and were incorrectly granted hundreds of foreign workers for five years by labour department bureaucrats anyway, despite it being “contrary to the program rules and regulatory requirements.”

“As these employers did not mislead Service Canada in their [Labour Market Impact Assessments] LMIA applications, they were not in contravention of the conditions of employment that were outlined in their decision letter and annexes,” said a spokesperson for Minister Hajdu’s Office. “Service Canada therefore did not impose any administrative monetary penalties against the companies.”

Hiring under the classification of agricultural workers, the memo says the eight corporations had a “distinct advantage over employers using the low wage stream of the TFW Program” because they didn’t have to pay the $1,000 per position processing fee and were only required to advertise the jobs to Canadians for two weeks instead of the four required for temporary foreign workers strictly working in food processing.

The memo to the Labour Minister also noted that the unemployment rate in some communities where some of these food processing plants are located is 6.6%, higher than Ontario’s average of 5.5%. (Many southwestern Ontario communities have lost many manufacturing jobs in recent years.)           

Since the eight companies were only required to advertise for two weeks at the lower farmworker wage before utilizing the TFW program, the memo states this “removed the possibility of employment in the food processing industry for some Canadians at the proper, competitive wage.”

“These employers should have been applying through the Low-Wage Stream for the work that was outlined on their LMIA applications. The positive decision by Service Canada for these employers to use the SAWP for major food processing was an administrative error that was identified and corrected,” said Minister Hajdu’s spokesperson in an email to True North.

“This practice contravenes the regulations, and any other employer applying in a similar manner would either be denied the application or would be found non-compliant,” said the labour department in the memo to Hajdu in February 2018.

The Labour Department also informed Hajdu it would “work closely with the Governments of Jamaica and Mexico, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and affected employers to make this transition as smooth as possible for all parties including instituting an expedited service path to prevent undue delays in assisting employers in hiring [temporary foreign workers].”

From 2016 to present the government has fined 129 companies for violating the TFWP, with penalties ranging from $500 to $54,000. 52 of those companies were given two-year bans from using temporary foreign workers.

“If violations are uncovered during the course of an inspection, all employers are provided with an opportunity to take corrective measures in order to become compliant with Program conditions,” says Hajdu’s office. “Appropriate measures are taken against all employers who fail or refuse to comply.”

The TFWP caused an uproar with the Canadian public back in 2013 when it was revealed RBC was replacing dozens of its Canadian employees with temporary foreign workers.