Foreign Workers

Posted: Jan. 21, 2020 • By Kevin Kohler

Foreign Workers

Who are foreign workers?

In Canada foreign workers are workers who are permitted to work here on a temporary basis.  Lawfully admitted immigrants with permanent resident status are not generally referred to as foreign workers; however, recent immigrants may face many of the same challenges as foreign workers.

Statistics Canada reports that one in five people in Canada are foreign born, more than any other G8 country. Canada is a nation of immigrants and, in an interconnected global economy, the ability to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, or obtain skills that are in high demand, can provide an important opportunity for employers.  

What types of foreign workers might be employed?

You might find yourself employing foreign workers who are:

  • Temporary work permit holders
  • Post-secondary international students working part time

Recruiting and/or hiring foreign workers must be done carefully and in accordance with all of the requirements of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  There are specific steps to follow depending upon your circumstances, and assistance programs may be available to you.  You may need to formally demonstrate that you are unable to hire a Canadian (or permanent resident) for an available position.

When things go wrong

A tragic case concerning temporary workers involved the Canadian subsidiary of a foreign company that hired foreign workers for a project in Alberta.  As reported by the Globe and Mail, updated May 11, 2018:

“A Canadian subsidiary ….was ordered to pay a record $1.5-million workplace safety fine Thursday, six years after two Chinese workers were struck and killed by falling steel at (a) construction site.

The collapse of a tank roof …, also injured five other workers, two of them seriously.

…. most of the fine will go to fund a training and education program on legal rights and responsibilities for temporary foreign workers, other new Alberta workers, and their employers. ….. the Alberta government also discovered the Chinese workers were not paid during several months of their employment”

Foreign workers can be more vulnerable to hazards and exploitation, and the court sought to address this in its ruling.

What challenges can foreign workers face?

The Ontario Institute for Work and Health cites a study that recent immigrant men are twice as likely to sustain workplace injuries that require medical care compared with Canadian-born men. Some challenges facing foreign workers can include:

  • Doing physically demanding and unskilled work 
  • Being overqualified for the work being performed (associated with adverse health effects)
  • Language and cultural barriers preventing foreign workers from expressing safety concerns
  • Fear that reporting health and safety issues could affect their employment

There is also the potential for harassment and violence directed at foreign workers who are vulnerable due to their work situation, ethnicity, culture or religion.  Employers should be mindful that recent immigrants, with permanent residency, may face similar challenges.

What can we do to protect and encourage foreign workers?

Employers should:

  • Follow all legal requirements for hiring foreign workers
  • Take advantage of the available programs to assist employers and workers
  • Modify training and education programs to fit the needs of foreign workers
  • Educate supervisors to recognize the vulnerabilities and unique hazards facing foreign workers 
  • Provide access to working language education
  • Provide appropriate cultural sensitivity training to employees 
  • Maintain communication with foreign workers and ensure that they are fully integrated in all company programs on and off the job

Hiring foreign workers can represent a unique opportunity to employers.  Employers should remember that all workers are protected equally and that any unique hazards facing foreign workers must be identified and controlled through their hazard and risk assessment process.

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