Labour and business stakeholders say they're baffled by the Conservative government's recent removal of provisions from its Temporary Foreign Worker Program that would have barred criminal employers from participating.
In a notice on New Year's Day, the government said its original proposals aimed at employers convicted of human trafficking, sexually assaulting an employee or causing the death of a worker were "too rigid and cumbersome."
And so it removed them from its crackdown on abusers of the program.
An official for the Employment and Social Development Department said any suggestions that the move had weakened protections for temporary foreign workers was incorrect.
The measures were part of tough new regulations aimed at quelling fears that foreigners are snatching jobs from Canadians. The spate of rules kicked in on Tuesday, empowering government officials to conduct workplace inspections without warrants and to blacklist employers who fail to comply.
The regulations also allow government officials to interview foreign workers about their working conditions and to demand documentation from employers proving they've complied with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The government will also no longer accept applications from employers looking to hire temporary foreign workers in the sex-trade industry. That rule is aimed at protecting vulnerable workers like strippers and exotic dancers.
Those measures have been applauded by labour groups. The quiet removal of provisions aimed at companies convicted of crimes, therefore, came as a significant surprise to organizations such as the Canadian Labour Congress, which the government has consulted on other changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Among the new restrictions is the elimination of the so-called 15 per cent rule, which allowed companies to pay temporary foreign workers 15 per cent less than the going rate for any given position as long as the employer had paid Canadians that lower rate as well.
Ottawa also began charging a $275 fee for companies applying for a TFW permit, and required employers to prove they'd made every effort to fill their openings with Canadians before turning to foreign workers.
Boom provinces say their economies are hungry for the type of skilled workers that aren't readily available in Canada due to a skills shortage that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce calls one of the top barriers to Canadian competitiveness.