Employment and Social Development Canada commits to September 11, 2018 launch date for new maritime-specific Temporary Foreign Worker Program Policy co-developed by the SIU Canada

September 13, 2018

In 2015, the SIU filed 42 lawsuits stating that the Government of Canada was violating the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (“TFWP”) by systematically issuing work permits to non-Canadian crew members of hundreds of foreign ships engaged in Cabotage in Canadian waters without first obtaining the required positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”). The SIU found evidence that many of these foreign workers made as little as $2.41 per hour while working in Canada for up to twelve months at a time when they should have been receiving the Canadian prevailing industry wages. In July 2016, the SIU filed an additional 13 lawsuits with similar allegations.



In July 2016, the Government of Canada admitted that it improperly issued work permits to the foreign crew of the New England, a Marshall Islands flagged oil tanker that was engaged in Cabotage operations in Canadian waters. The Federal Court granted the SIU’s judicial review applications and on February 14, 2017 the SIU and the Government of Canada reached a settlement on the remaining outstanding lawsuits.



As part of the settlement terms with the SIU, the Government of Canada committed to conducting a full review of the TFWP policies and procedures as they relate to the use of TFWs employed on foreign-flagged vessel operating in Canadian maritime Cabotage. Working with Employment and Social Development Canada (“ESDC”) a Maritime Sector Review Governance Advisory Committee was established in May 2017 to draft a new TFWP policy which would specifically address issues with the program in the maritime industry. The Advisory Committee includes parties identified as having a vested interest in the policy development including maritime employers and Canadian vessel charterers, with the SIU Canada assuming the lead in representing maritime labour stakeholders.



After numerous meetings and consultations over the course of the last 16 months, ESDC has committed to move forward with implementing this policy on September 11, 2018. This policy, which we believe will dramatically improve the TFWP’s implementation in the maritime industry, is the result of years of work, protests, demonstrations and advocacy by the SIU and we are very satisfied with the result up to this point.


Some highlights of the new policy include: 



  • The new policy will ensure that Canadian Seafarers retain the first right to be employed in any available maritime jobs in Canada by requiring all foreign vessel operators or Canadian charterers obtaining a Coasting Trade Waiver for a vessel for more than thirty days to obtain a letter of concurrence or objection from the SIU Canada with regards to crewing. This ensures that qualified SIU members and other Canadian seafarers are offered these jobs prior to a foreign seafarer being granted a work permit to remain in Canada.



  • The new policy also addresses another primary concern in that it safeguards and secures foreign seafarers against exploitation by requiring their employer to present them with an employment agreement in the form of an addendum to their international Seafarers’ Employment Agreement (“SEA”). This agreement outlines the wages and conditions of work to be received for the entire duration of the Coasting Trade License for work in Canada. Each foreign crew member must sign and receive a physical copy of this addition to their normal contract, as well as be given information on their rights as workers in Canada and the protections afforded to them through the Canada Labour Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations which require the payment of prevailing industry wages to foreign workers working in Canada. This is a significant step to ensure that Canadian vessel charterers will no longer be able to use the TFWP to employ cheap foreign labour in a means to undercut and undermine the Canadian maritime industry and Canadian seafarers.



Next Steps


This is a significant and hard-fought victory for Canadian seafarers and the collective Canadian maritime industry. The next step will be ensuring that there are enforcement and regulatory procedures in place to ensure these policy changes are being strictly enforced. The SIU remains committed to continuing the constructive and positive work that we have started with the Government of Canada and we commend the government staff from ESDC who were involved in this process and on the Advisory Committee for their hard work and dedication in developing this new policy which was truly not an easy task to take on.



We strongly believe this policy will provide greater clarity for inter-departmental cooperation for those tasked with enforcing maritime-specific immigration policies and for those tasked with looking after the welfare of all seafarers, both foreign and Canadian alike. We look forward to reviewing all new departmental directives that will be implemented to address the enforcement and integrity of this policy upon its implementation.