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Evidence of meeting #12 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was migrant.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Anthony Cochlan  Partner, ACT Immigration and Business Consulting Ltd.
Barbara Byers  Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress
Val Litwin  Chief Executive Officer, Whistler Chamber of Commerce
Elizabeth Kwan  Senior Researcher, Canadian Labour Congress
Gina Bahiwal  Member, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada
Gabriel Allahdua  Member, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada
Jatinder Sidhu  Executive Vice-President, Coast Spas Manufacturing Inc.
Jayson Hilchie  President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada
Ethel Tungohan  Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, York University, As an Individual
Ericson Santos De Leon  As an Individual
Chris LeClair  Senior Advisor, Maritime Seafood Coalition
Jerry Amirault  President, Lobster Processors Association of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Maritime Seafood Coalition
Francisco Mootoo  Member, Temporary Foreign Workers Association
Lucio Castracani  Community Organizer and Member, Temporary Foreign Workers Association

5:10 p.m.

Member, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Gina Bahiwal

So maybe definitely we need the four-year program.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

How much time—

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

We don't have time, I'm sorry, Mr. Sangha. We have to move on.

We'll come back to Ms. Ashton, please.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Thank you, and thank you very much to all of our witnesses today.

I particularly want to thank Gabriel and Gina for their very compelling testimony. I think what you can see from today's meeting is that the format of this review is very troubling. We have very little time to review a major program, the temporary foreign worker program. What we are certainly concerned about is that we don't have the proper ability to look at, in particular, the seasonal agricultural worker program, which we know has been rife with exploitation. In fact, we know from today the national attention that was given to the case of Sheldon McKenzie, who eventually died from his injuries sustained on the job in the Leamington area. We also know the example that my colleague brought up of Quebec, in the Drummondville area, where workers said they felt they were treated like donkeys and slaves. We have heard from Justicia and other organizations that have compared the seasonal agricultural worker program to an apartheid system.

There have been statements by the minister that the seasonal agricultural worker program is an important part of this review, yet unfortunately we haven't seen how in fact that is going to take place, given the limited amount of time that is being devoted to this review. We are also very concerned that today's deliberations, for example, where you are giving such powerful testimony, are not televised for other people to be able to hear from you and see you while you are telling us your stories.

I want to talk a bit about the experiences of exploitation you referred to. I know that one of the stories that have brought a lot of attention is the repatriation of migrant farm workers for health-related reasons: 787 migrant farm workers in Ontario were sent back, and the medical association report indicated that this obviously speaks to a level of neglect. I am wondering if you could comment on that, as well as on what steps we can take to protect migrant workers from exploitation and vulnerability more broadly.

Perhaps we can begin with you, Gabriel, and then go to Gina.

5:10 p.m.

Member, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Gabriel Allahdua

In terms of exploitation, there are several measures on the farm. Here are some practical stories that I heard from my colleagues.

Can you believe that, on the farms where my colleagues worked, the performances, the rates at which the workers were working, were posted on a daily basis, and sometimes on a weekly basis?

On one farm in particular, where they were posted daily, the two slowest workers were sent home to the bunker every day. What do you call that? Every day they are being punished, the two workers at the bottom. You know, in life, some people are very skilled at particular tasks, and some perform really well at other tasks. Every day, those two at the bottom are sent home. What is that? What do we call that? Is that the modern Canada? Is that a place of justice? Is that a place where human rights are guaranteed to all?

What we see on the farms is that when Canadians come to work on a farm, they work at their own pace and nobody bothers them. Is that fairness? Is that justice? That is reality.

The moment you speak up, you are threatened with losing your job or being sent home. The reality is, nobody is permanent on the program. At the end of the eight months, when you go back home, there is no guarantee that you are going to go back to Canada. The employer reserves the right to request you or keep you home. Just that makes you go and work above and beyond the ordinary. Imagine, too, that you are reminded daily that there are a hundred people lined up to take your job.

What is our recommendation? Don't send sick and injured workers back home. One of the key demands we have in terms of equality is to grant residence, to grant status. That would solve all the headaches and all the issues. It would level the playing field. That is what we call for, and that is what Canada is known for. Human rights are guaranteed to all people. In a nutshell, that is what it is, and that is what we see. That is what our workers are calling for, equality for everyone, fairness. That is all we are asking for. Fairness comes with permanent status on arrival, because that will take away the power of the employers who really exploit them, and there are lots of ways and means they use to exploit them. The daily performance I just mentioned is just one.

5:15 p.m.

Member, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Gina Bahiwal

Regarding that figure you said for the injured workers, there are actually more unreported cases of injured workers who are being sent back home. Those were the reported cases of injured workers.

I would like to mention this. Women migrant workers who get pregnant while working here in Canada get fired, so they don't have access to health care. One worker who I talked to last month lost her baby. She had to hide her tummy and put on a girdle so the employer would not see that she was pregnant, because she was afraid of being fired, and what happened is that she lost her baby.

Thank you.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much, both of you.

Monsieur Robillard, please, for six minutes.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for participating today in the work of this committee's study of the temporary foreign worker program.

I would like to address my question to Mr. Hilchie.

In its March 2016 report, the ESAC states that the major challenges faced by the video game sector include “domestic and global impediments to talent supply.” Quebec is one of the four provinces that employ the most workers in high-wage positions under the temporary foreign worker program.

What do you mean by domestic “impediments to talent supply”?

5:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

Thank you for your question. I will answer in English.

When our industry really began to grow in 1997 after the investments of Ubisoft in Montreal, and the further investments of the other video game studios that subsequently invested, there was a lot of talent available, both creative talent and technical talent, who wanted to work in the video game industry. The economy was not the same as it is today.

Keep in mind that we've grown considerably over the last 20 years, to the point where we're now one of the biggest video game industries in the world. Quebec itself is one of the most important video game hubs in the world. Quebec and Canada represent more than 50% of the total employment in our industry.

It is a major hub, but the issue is that as our industry has grown, we have simply outgrown the number of people we are able to find within that 5-to-15-year experience range. We don't have a problem finding highly skilled junior talent, for the most part. The problem is that we don't always have jobs to offer the new graduates because we're missing the jobs in the 5-to-15-year experience realm that are needed before we even start to look at juniors.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Regarding the employees that you hire through the temporary foreign worker program, do these jobs result in the transfer of skills and knowledge for the benefit of Canadian citizens or permanent residents?

5:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

Yes, absolutely. That is one of the reasons why it's so imperative for our industry to be able to bring in foreign workers. Whether they're called TFWs or whatever they'll be called in the future, it is very important for us to be able to access that knowledge.

In some cases, there are video game industries in the world, such as those in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, that are much older and have many more experienced people than we have here. It is those skills that have helped us to grow our industry with Canadians, to supercharge it, and to grow it as big as it is today.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

In the press release for the ESAC report entitled “Playing for the Future,” the organization that you chair states that Canadian immigration policies, which are constantly changing, still impede access to the global talent pool.

5:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

Absolutely. The obstacle that exists is the labour market impact assessment, which is the major problem for us. If we didn't have to be subject to that, we would be able to make job offers almost immediately to prospective employees who want to come to Canada to work, to transfer that knowledge, to mentor young new graduates, to help contribute to the economy. If we were able to do that, the uncertainty around our hiring process for global workers would be much improved.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I will continue with the question about access to the talent pool.

Express entry is a system for ranking qualified immigrants who wish to become permanent residents. The points system ranks the candidates in order, and the candidates with the most points are invited to apply for permanent residence. Out of a maximum of 1,200 points, candidates can earn 600 points if they have a valid job offer supported by a labour market impact assessment.

Is that true?

5:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

The express entry system is for permanent residency, not temporary work. While our industry does use it, it is not the mechanism we use to bring people in quickly and efficiently. But then again, I guess the temporary foreign worker program isn't that either.

The express entry system is mainly for those people who have immediately expressed an interest in becoming permanent residents. Oftentimes we hire people from abroad who don't know whether they want to become permanent residents. We fully support a path to permanent residency for all of our employees. We fully support a path to citizenship. I think that would be great, but not everybody wants to stay, and not everybody decides that Canada is where they're going to spend any longer than their TFW work permit allows.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

That wraps up the first round.

We're going to start the second round of questions right away.

We will go back to Monsieur Robillard.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Again?

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Yes.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

That's something special today.

However, once your project is completed and a video game is delivered, for example, the job supported by a labour market impact assessment ends. This significantly decreases a candidate's points under the express entry system.

If a specialized technology company wishes to retain the employee, what steps can it take to keep the employee?

5:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

The work permit that is issued under the temporary foreign worker program is good, I believe, for four years. It isn't specifically related to the project. If one of the employees comes in and works on Assassin's Creed in Montreal, when Assassin's Creed is over, they have the option to stay so long as they are staying at the company that sponsored their work visa, and they can continue to work for the length of that work permit.

When somebody wants to move from the TFW program to permanent residency, there are the nominee programs in the various provinces, but I believe that express entry is also a way to do that.

The problem is that we run into many issues because the process to do that takes so long that the work permit under the foreign worker program expires before that person is able to move into permanent residency status. They're forced to go home, and they don't want to. Sometimes they're married. Sometimes they have children here. Their work permit runs out and they haven't been transitioned to permanent residency status.

When I say that we support a clear path, I mean a clear path that starts from the minute the person gets brought in as a TFW so that they know what the process is for them to stay should they wish to.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Most hiring managers in your field participated in an Industry Canada study in 2013. They stated that there was not enough Canadian talent to fill the positions, which resulted in a higher dependency on foreign talent. It was reported in 2013 that over 1,400 positions were expected to be filled in the next 12 to 24 months.

Do you consider your needs short term or long term?

5:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

The way that we have been advocating for our employment issues is both on a short-term and a long-term objective.

The short-term objective for us is to succeed in convincing you all that we need a streamlined process for bringing high-skilled foreign workers into this country, so that we can fill as many of those 1,400 jobs as we possibly can.

As for the long term, you referenced our March 2016 study called “Playing for the Future”, which is a skills study that we have issued, and if you haven't seen it you can read it on our website, in French and English.

Long term, this country needs to adopt an approach to championing skills at a much earlier age, putting technology and computer science programs in the school system. I realize this is a provincial objective, but from a federal perspective the federal government can take a leadership role in championing this as a nation-building exercise to convince the provinces that putting computer science and technology education in elementary schools to make sure that our children have the skills that they need to take the jobs of the future, not just video games but all technology jobs, is the long-term play.

But that's a generational change. It's going to take a long time. In the meantime we need foreign workers.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

My last question.

Do the current problems with the policies discourage you from focusing on training skilled Canadian workers?

5:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Jayson Hilchie

Yes, absolutely.

The problem is that we have no choice. If we can't find a Canadian and we need to fill a job, we have to go and put ourselves at the hands of the TFW program. I wouldn't say that people are not using it, but their association has simply been more active on advocating for the solutions. Problems with the program certainly exist and I hear about problems with the various applications on a daily basis.

It's still being used, but I don't know if it's being used to the level that it was when we didn't have to do an LMIA during the IT workers programs.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

You said that was your last question?

You have a very brief one.