New mandatory foreign worker housing requirements under consideration by feds

Foreign Workers

The federal government wants to hear from you on temporary foreign worker accommodations.

The window to provide comments and have your voice heard will close on Dec. 22, 2020.

In consultation with provincial governments, employers, workers and foreign partner countries, the federal government announced this past summer that it would develop minimum mandatory requirements for housing under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), under which upwards of 60,000 foreign workers come to Canada each year to ensure our agricultural sector continues to function.

“The intent is not to pursue short-term changes … but to develop a lasting approach to improve living conditions for workers while considering elements that would make accommodations more adaptable to addressing any communicable disease outbreaks in the future,” read a document provided to Niagara This Week by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

To that end, the feds want to reduce overcrowding to bring about five outcomes: personal space and privacy; adaptability to public health measures to prevent virus spread; more amenities; heating, cooling and air quality; and internet access.

The current open consultation process requires those wanting to participate to send an email to [email protected] requesting to take part.

Through the public consultation period, the government wants feedback on “impacts and considerations for transitioning to new requirements,” and “approaches to strengthen oversight of worker accommodations.”

New requirements under consideration for the TFWP include: ensuring workers have freedom of movement and can receive guests without restrictions; having proper heating and cooling equipment to maintain temperature range of 20 to 25.5 C; a maximum of four workers per bedroom with a minimum distance of two metres between all beds; washrooms being within work accommodations; and access to phones and free internet where available.

The requirements under consideration can be viewed in their entirety by clicking here.

“The consultations will inform the development of a lasting approach to improve living conditions for workers. Creating clear and consistent standards will also ensure employers fully understand their obligations and can better adhere to them,” an Oct. 27 press release read.

The release also announced that the federal government will survey those employing agricultural temporary foreign workers so government can better understand current accommodation arrangements.

Niagara This Week was provided a survey sample, which revealed questions about housing types like bunkhouses and mobile homes, square footage of common areas and sleeping spaces, amenities, and whether cooling/heating systems are controllable by workers — to name some.

Another document provided to Niagara This Week from ESDC read that housing provided to workers “who may be vulnerable to exploitation due to their immigration status and other factors” is inconsistent.

Common complaints, the document listed, are “overcrowding and lack of privacy, an inadequate number of washrooms and kitchen facilities per worker, lack of adequate heating/cooling” and deficiencies like leaks, mould and poor plumbing.

“The increased attention on employer-provided accommodations through COVID-19 has highlighted several other common deficiencies in the quality of housing and living conditions for workers, including those group accommodations provided on many farms may increase the risk of communicable disease transmission, potentially putting the health of TFWs and the community at large at risk,” another paragraph read.

Of the foreign workers who come to Canada each year, approximately 3,000 men and women come to work at Niagara’s farms; two of which experienced significant COVID-19 outbreaks so far this year.

By: Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week