Temporary Foreign Workers

Manitoba’s Trucking Sector Increasingly Relies on Temporary Foreign Workers Amid Accusations of Exploitation

Manitoba’s trucking industry is turning to temporary foreign workers to fill driver positions at the highest rate in recent years. However, some companies face allegations of exploiting these newcomers, who aspire to establish lives in Canada.

A review of federal data reveals that in 2023, Manitoba businesses in trades, transport, equipment operation, and related occupations were authorized to hire 1,467 temporary foreign workers. This represents a staggering 1,283 percent increase from the 106 workers permitted in 2018, according to figures from Employment and Social Development Canada.

The demand for temporary foreign workers has surged nationwide across various professions. In Manitoba, the number of approved temporary foreign worker positions rose by 3,200 in 2023 compared to five years earlier, with the transportation sector being a major contributor to this increase.

In 2023, nearly 900 of the approved temporary foreign workers in Manitoba were transport truck drivers. This is a significant rise from the 40 drivers permitted in 2018 under the federal program.

Aaron Dolyniuk, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, noted that companies are increasingly forced to recruit beyond the province’s borders. “We have an aging workforce,” he said. “Half of the people we need to recruit are retiring from our workforce.”

Struggles in Hiring and Retention

Provincial labor market data from 2023 indicates that Manitoba must train and retain approximately 3,485 more drivers over the next five years to meet demand. Despite offering competitive pay, the trucking lifestyle, characterized by long hours and extended periods away from home, is less appealing to many workers today.

“We’re not seeing the same interest from domestic workers, so we have to address the shortfall somehow,” explained Kenneth Zaifman, a lawyer specializing in immigration counsel for trucking companies.

CBC News analyzed federal temporary foreign worker data based on positive labor market impact assessments (LMIAs), which confirm there are no Canadians available to fill these jobs. An increase in positive LMIA positions suggests a growing interest among employers in the temporary foreign worker program, even if not all approved employers ultimately hire these workers.

This data highlights the trucking sector’s rising dependence on temporary foreign workers to address labor shortages, amidst ongoing concerns about the treatment and integration of these workers into the Canadian labor market.

While Manitoba’s labour shortage is well-documented, Zaifman said it’s particularly pronounced in the trucking sector, because the province has become a transportation hub with a number of large and growing companies.

Some trucking companies use the temporary foreign worker program because they’ve exhausted the provincial nominee program, which brings a limited number of skilled workers to the province annually to fill labour gaps.

But the spike in interest in temporary foreign workers in the trucking industry is likely also influenced by the employers and international recruiters who are illegally charging newcomers a fee in the tens of thousands of dollars for a work permit, said Zaifman.

Anecdotally, he’s also heard of cases in which workers aren’t getting promised hours and are being paid less than expected.

That behaviour is “more common than we think,” he said.

Zaifman said he can attest that many trucking companies handle temporary worker recruitment the right way. His office applies for work permits. He said new workers sign a letter acknowledging they haven’t paid a fee, directly or indirectly, for the job.

But his office has also helped some workers, including truckers, escape abusive situations by supporting their applications for an open work permit specifically for vulnerable workers.

Many other workers stay silent out of fears speaking out would jeopardize their chances at permanent residency, he said.

“The ultimate problem is that those individuals who come … [under the temporary foreign worker program] may not get the objective which they seek, which is a job that pays them,” he said.

“It creates a lot of human hardship.”

Last year, a Winnipeg company known as 10047179 Manitoba Ltd. was sanctioned for breaking laws around the hiring and recruiting of temporary foreign workers. It was fined $258,000 and banned from using the program for five years.

The Manitoba Trucking Association’s Dolyniuk said the numbered company wasn’t registered as a trucking entity in the province, yet “somehow [was] given permission to recruit truck drivers to work in Manitoba.”

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