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Tighter law helps all




Rachel Brighton


Rules on foreign workers better

Newspaper title

Herald Business

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Nova Scotia employers wanting to bring in temporary foreign workers will have a tougher time as of Aug. 1. That’s a good thing.

Under new provincial rules, it will be harder for employers and recruiting agents to unlawfully take money from foreign workers in exchange for a job.

It will also be easier for officials to weed out employers who have violated the labour code or infringed health and safety rules protecting their existing workers.

From Aug. 1, employers must register with the provincial labour standards division before they recruit or hire foreign workers.

A registration certificate will be required every time they seek federal approval to bring in temporary workers.

Unregistered employers who recruit foreign workers may be fined up to $25,000.

Employers also face hefty fines if they use unregistered recruitment agencies.

Ottawa has also been tightening up rules for its controversial temporary foreign worker program.

Earlier this year, when the Royal Bank of Canada admitted using foreign IT workers, the federal government reformed the program by closing loopholes and requiring employers to pay prevailing wages to foreign workers.

This reduces the advantage of hiring foreign workers for lower wages.

Temporary foreign workers are hired when local workers lack skills or experience or choose not to accept jobs for the wages and conditions offered. These federal reforms target employers simply seeking cheaper labour.

Ottawa wants to see business plans showing how these employers will migrate to hiring more Canadian workers instead.

And while the registration process in Nova Scotia is free, Ottawa will recover more program expenses from employers, so other taxpayers don’t subsidize the cost of hiring foreign workers.

Foreign workers in Nova Scotia, including seasonal farm hands, earn upwards of $10 an hour and are protected by the labour standards code. On top of that, employers pay for workers’ transportation and insurance, and in some cases provide accommodation.

On balance, when other payroll costs are factored in, temporary foreign workers may not be cheaper than Canadian workers.

But it appears they are carving out a more permanent place in the labour market.

The number of temporary foreign workers entering the province each year is relatively steady, between 2,000 and 3,000. But the number remaining in the province has increased dramatically in the past two years.

Last year, 2,324 temporary foreign workers entered the province and 4,364 were living here in December. That suggests temporary foreign workers may be staying longer and employers may be becoming more dependent on them.

Some of those employers, who gathered in Halifax this week to be briefed on the reforms, were reportedly disgruntled at the changes.

It will be harder and more costly to hire foreign workers. But that’s a fair exchange.

The new rules remove incentives to use foreign workers as cheap labour. That protects Canadian workers.

The provincial requirement to only use registered recruiters will protect foreign workers from illegal and unscrupulous practices.

And together, the federal and provincial reforms should ensure businesses have done all they can to recruit locals first.

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Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Public awareness, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Nova Scotia

Spheres of activity

Law, Management of human resources, and Political science