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48 Surrey businesses fined collective $914K for breaking foreign worker rules

Of these fines levied over the past eight years, more than half listed as unpaid
A federal government website indicates Surrey businesses have reaped a collective 22 years in bans on hiring temporary workers. (Photo: Mark Stebnicki/Pexels)

Forty-eight Surrey businesses have been fined a collective $914,000 over the past eight years for non-compliance with Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program or International Mobility Program, with $473,250 in those fines listed as unpaid.

The federal programs’ purpose, under the umbrella of Immigration and Citizenship Canada, is to oversee the hiring of temporary workers and set out conditions employers must abide by. Inspections are done in an effort to ensure compliance.

Eight numbered companies are among Surrey’s 48, which includes construction, trucking, agriculture, restaurants, importing, security, a private elementary school, automotive, and labour services are among them.

All told, penalties have been levied against 865 businesses nation-wide between 2016 and 2024.

The highest penalty applied to a Surrey business – a numbered company – was a $129,000 fine plus a one-year ban. The lowest fine was $500.

The government website also indicates Surrey businesses have reaped a collective 22 years in bans on hiring temporary workers.

Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said “predatory practices involving temporary foreign workers and students, etcetera, they’ve been talked about for a long time and it’s taken us longer than it should have to really start to grapple with this.”

He said there’s now “real discussions going on in Ottawa” about the selling Labour Market Impact Assessments for “outrageous amounts of money when they’re not to be sold. So there’s been a lot of gaming the system and my guess is the numbers that you saw in that report are low compared with what’s actually going on.”

An LMIA is a document an employer requires before hiring a foreign worker, with a positive LMIA indicating a need exists for a foreign worker to fill a job.

“This is all just the mutterings on the street you hear continuously about people abusing the system,” Hardie told the Now-Leader. “Just in the last couple of days I saw some action on the LMIAs but that said, we have a lot on our plate right now that we’re talking about, and it’s mainly housing and the tax system and things like that.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman called the situation “concerning.”

“I was not aware of that,” she told the Now-Leader on Friday, when told about the 48. “I’ve had recent conversations with the federal government on the temporary foreign worker program. There are industries such as the agriculture sector, some of the Indian sweets shops, the manufacturers that require temporary foreign workers, there is a move to modify legislation for TFWs (temporary foreign workers) and further consultation with the private sector but I was not aware of the severity of the situation that you’re speaking of.”

Randeep Sarai, Liberal MP for Surrey Centre, said the government has made it easier for employees who are not being paid or not getting a job after they arrive to report this to the Canada Border Services Agency which will then provide them with an open work permit while it investigates. “If it turns out to be true, they will give the opportunity to the employee to find another employer.”

The federal government, he added, has also changed the immigration consultants industry from being self-regulating to government-regulated. “There’s repercussions and penalties” Sarai said, “but all of these do require the employee to report, and to report the irregularities or criminal activity or abuse.” Employment Standards also does audits to confirm if employers are actually employing these workers.

As for unpaid fines Sarai, who is also a lawyer, noted that getting a judgment is one thing but collecting on it “is the hardest part always.

“If the company doesn’t pay they usually are able to go after the directors of that company too, so I believe it is just a matter of time,” he said.

“The program overall is a fairly effective program and does really well, but there is a small amount of abuse that does happen and we probably need to do more and we’re always looking at different ways to plug those holes where abuse or misuse has taken place.”

Provincial Labour Minister Harry Bains, NDP MLA for Surrey-Newton, said his position has been – and always will be – that regardless of one’s immigration status or their arrangement is to work here, “every worker must be paid and protected just like any other worker.

“These are the few who take advantage by cheating their workers and cheating their competitors, which is not the right thing to do and I don’t think I would ever stand for that,” Bains said. The NDP government, when it was first formed, brought in the Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act requiring that employers to register the employees and that all recruiters must be licensed if they are to recruit for an employer within B.C., he added.

“So what happens when a complaint comes to the Employment Standards branch about an employer who may not be complying with the laws, and if the Employment Standards Branch finds them in violation,” Bains explained, “that information then is shared with the federal counterparts so they can take action on their side.”

The provincial government then unregisters the employer and it wouldn’t be able to hire temporary foreign workers, Bains said, “because the federal government requires them to be registered with us as well. If they are not registered with us they will not be able to hire a temporary foreign worker going forward, period.”

Bains said he’s aware of LMIAs or sponsorship letters being sold, “and they’re not supposed to be sold. I have asked my federal counterparts numerous times that there should not be that requirement.

If it’s known what sectors are facing a shortage, the labour minister said, “then why don’t we just issue work permits in that sector to those qualified who are applying to work here as a temporary foreign worker, then there’s no need for that letter which I’m told is being sold for a lot of money, which is illegal.”

“At the end of the day,” Bains said of the federal government, “it is their file, it’s their responsibility and we’re doing everything we can at the provincial level, through the Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act, but if there are areas of loopholes and gaps that some bad actors are using to make a lot of money on the backs of the temporary foreign workers, then we should close those gaps.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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