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EDITORIAL: Improved regulation needed for staffing agencies

EDITORIAL: Foreign workers may not be citizens of Canada and it can be easy to ignore a situation, as an essential part of the country’s workforce we owe it to them to lessen the risk and improve regulation against those who try and take advantage.
July 21, 2022
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

An international workforce is essential for the Bow Valley to thrive and survive.

Economically, the workers provide a necessary service for a sector reliant on outside employees, while culturally, they add a vibrancy that sets the region apart from the rest of the province.

However, the ordeals for an international worker can be many. From remote work locations, being far away from home, potentially low pay and less than ideal living situations, it is far from glamourous.

The lack of regulation for employers to get the foreign workforce is also ripe with caution.

This was highlighted July 12 when Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP ordered 31 contract workers employed and paid through a third-party staffing agency ­– but who worked at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise – to leave Canada.

The result was due to an ongoing investigation on workers not having legal paperwork to be employed in Canada, which was supplied by the staffing agency.

The third-party staffing agency – One Team – used primarily social media such as Facebook to entice a workforce wanting to come to the mountains.

A spokesperson for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts for Canada’s western mountain region has emphasized the workers were not hired by Fairmont, but were employees of One Team and paid directly via the agency.

Fairmont ended its contract with One Team, but it left 105 workers at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge unemployed. Fairmont Resorts and Hotels said they are working with those individuals who have legal work documentation to find potential jobs at its hotels, but the shock to those workers likely came fast and furious.

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts have said they are cooperating with the investigation and helping the impacted contract workers with food and accommodation for up to 10 days, free transportation to Calgary or Edmonton and connecting them with support services.

Though the majority of such staffing companies have ethical practices, the bad examples can be nightmarish.

It’s not uncommon for temporary staffing agencies to pay below minimum wage, avoid giving holiday pay and not paying overtime premiums. It can also be common for workers to be charged hiring fees and clawing it off a person’s paycheque.

The Job Resource Centre’s latest labour market review highlighted the Bow Valley’s staff shortage entered the summer at about 30 per cent. With foreign workers accounting for about one-third of Banff’s labour pool, travel restrictions stemming from COVID-19 have only stagnated the flow of workers coming to the area and led to other measures to bring workers to the region.

These staggering numbers emphasize the reliance on foreign workers and the necessity they have for companies desperate for workers.

Long an issue in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government actively fought against better regulation for temporary staffing agencies. However, with an election looming earlier this year, new legislation was brought in that required them to be licenced by the government, pay a security bond and be listed in an online database.

The legislation, unfortunately, won’t take effect until 2024.

In Alberta and other provinces, governments should take action to limit the impact on foreign workers through temporary staffing agencies.

For the international workers who put their trust – and money – into what they believed was helping find a job in the mountains, they are unlikely to get a satisfactory resolution.

Though the workers are entitled to due process – and receiving help from community legal services – they will likely be returned to their native countries.

Foreign workers may not be citizens of Canada and it can be easy to ignore a situation, as an essential part of the country’s workforce we owe it to them to lessen the risk and improve regulation against those who try and take advantage.