Ottawa introduced a new three-year pilot program Tuesday that would incentivize employers to follow worker-protection rules by making it easier for them to hire temporary foreign workers.
Under the "recognized employer pilot" program, companies with a good track record would only need to prove that they require temporary foreign workers every three years, instead of every 18 months.
The employer's trusted status would also be flagged to potential workers in the government's job bank.
The new pilot will focus on "the protections and support that improve workplace conditions for temporary foreign workers," Employment Minister Randy Randy Boissonnault said at a press conference in the Southwestern Ontario town of Ruthven on Tuesday.
The temporary foreign worker program is designed to attract workers from abroad to fill short-term labour market gaps in cases where no Canadians or permanent residents are available.
Employers involved in the pilot program will need to go through a more rigorous upfront assessment, Boissonnault said.
Agricultural companies will be able to apply to be part of the pilot in September, and all other employers will be eligible in January.
The pilot will simplify the hiring process by lifting the administrative burden of having to resubmit their paperwork every 18 months, said Jennifer Wright, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council.
"The government of Canada is addressing an important impediment to addressing labour shortages that have harmed the competitiveness of Canada's agriculture sector," she said in a statement Tuesday.
The government set aside $29.3 million over three years for the program in its 2022 federal budget, referring to it at the time as the "trusted employer model."
Allegations of abuse have plagued the temporary foreign worker program for years.
Boissonnault said language barriers, social and physical isolation and a lack of awareness about their rights all make workers more vulnerable to abuse, and the government has attempted to curb the problems with more oversight.
Between April 2022 and March 2023, more than 2,100 inspections revealed 117 employers were found to be "out of compliance." Of those, 94 employers were fined a total of $1.5 million, 23 received warnings and six were banned from the program for five years.
"The system is working, keeping workers safe," Boissonnault said.
He said his office has launched a tip line for workers and advocates who witness wrongdoing, which is accessible in 200 languages.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2023.