TFWs will be moved to another project, but it remains unclear if fired Canadians will get their jobs back
Edmonton – The company involved in a TFW scandal on Imperial Oil's Kearle Lake site has admitted that it fired Canadian iron workers and replaced them with TFWs.
In a statement released to media this afternoon, the company, Pacer-Promec Joint Ventures, said it would move the TFWs to another site and commit to hiring Canadians – but stopped short of saying they would offer the jobs to the Canadians who had been fired in the first place.
"At first blush, this looked like a clear victory for the fired Canadians workers," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said. "But Pacer-Promec has not contacted the union or the fired workers with an offer to come back to work. Something still smells pretty fishy here."
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, 65 Canadian workers employed by Pacer-Promec Joint Ventures were given their pink slips, and they were replaced by Temporary Foreign Workers. When the firings came to light, the ensuing public outrage forced the government to announce an investigation. Late Friday afternoon, the company issued a press release that included an apology and a promise to hire Canadians.
"The news statement from the company is certainly a step in a more positive direction, but the story should not end here," McGowan said. "The Canadian workers have still not been offered their jobs back. And, even more importantly, this is not an isolated incident. This is not a case of a rogue employer breaking the rules. The real problem is with the rules themselves. Specifically, a new stream in the TFW program allows employers in Alberta's construction industry to hire TFWs without first looking for Canadians. As long as this new stream remains in place, Canadian tradespeople will continue to face the prospect of being replaced by or passed over for TFWs."
In October, more than 300 workers at Husky Energy's Sunrise Oilsands Project were let go. In some cases, they were forced to train the Temporary Foreign Workers who were replacing them. The Alberta Federation of Labour has been a leader in bringing abuses of this program to light.
"More and more Canadians are going public, and letting the country know the extent to which the Temporary Foreign Worker program is undermining job security, undermining wages, and exploiting disadvantaged workers," McGowan said.
Even with Pacer-Promec's promise to rehire Canadian workers, McGowan says many important questions remain.
"The company says they will move the TFWs to another work site. Will these TFWs fill jobs on that site that would have otherwise been available to Canadians? Will they still be paid half the wage of Canadian workers? Perhaps most importantly, will the companies involved face any consequences? Will they be fined? Will they lose their right to bring TFWs into the country? Canadians deserve answers to these questions?"
The Harper government has made such a mess of the TFW program that experts say a full investigation by an impartial third party is warranted.
"The Harper government created this monster, they can't be trusted to tame it," McGowan said. "Canadians deserve a royal commission on the economic, social and cultural impact of this program. It morally diminishes us as a country to have a program that creates a disenfranchised underclass of non-citizen workers."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Canada Jobs Grant will take from the poor, to give to the rich
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is asking Premier Alison Redford to refuse the Canada Jobs Grant.
Federal and provincial ministers are meeting this week to discuss the controversial proposal that would see $300 million dollars taken away from existing government-run training programs to help subsidize employer-driven training. On top of seeing federal funds redirected, the program requires provincial governments to come up with additional matching funding. Moving ahead with the Canada Jobs Grant would mean that Alberta’s existing skills training programs would lose $33 million. The total impact to Alberta’s budget would be $66 million.
“There’s no guarantee that these grants won’t just be used for existing training that successful employers are already doing. And to pay for it, they want to scrap programs that are helping disadvantaged people participate in the labour force,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “The Canada Jobs Grant will further marginalize Alberta’s unemployed and underemployed workers. These workers are being passed over for stable, well-paying jobs, and sidelined in today’s economy. They’re robbing Peter to pay Midas.”
In areas with high unemployment rates, the program will be an unmitigated disaster. Employers who cannot afford to hire workers will not be able to afford $5,000 cash for training purposes. If no employers contribute, skills training programs will not otherwise be offered.
“The Canada Jobs Grant is essentially a wholesale privatization of the federal government’s role in skills training,” McGowan said. “There’s no incentive for employers to help train people who have been excluded from the economy, so they’re going to be left behind by this program.”
McGowan also noted that program is limited to short-term training, overlooking the need for workers in health care and the skilled trades, where developing the skills required takes four years or more.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has presented proposals that could help make the proposed grant system more functional.
“It’s key that we make this program work for young workers, for Indigenous Canadians, for women, and we need to see it available regardless of employer’s funding,” McGowan said. “It needs to work for Canadians who are on Employment Insurance, and for areas with high unemployment.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell) or via e-mail email@example.com
Labour unions in B.C. and Alberta are pushing for reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, as a judicial review begins in Federal Court into the process that allowed HD Mining to hire Chinese nationals at a coal mine in northeastern B.C.
"This judicial review of the HD Mining permits will be the most comprehensive examination of Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program ever conducted," said Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115.
"We know that there are over 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers employed in Canada today and 70,000 of those in B.C., but we've never seen the internal workings of how the federal government makes decisions on granting work permits to companies requesting them,"
The IUOE and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union (CSWU) Local 1611 unions will be in Federal Court in Vancouver for a judicial review between April 9 and 11.
The judicial review will investigate the process within Human Resources and Services Development Canada (HRSDC) that granted HD Mining permission to import 201 Chinese nationals at the $300 million Murray River underground coal mine, near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
The unions argue HRSDC failed to ensure there were no Canadians to do the work. In addition, they claim that the TFWs are being offered wages far below prevailing rates.
HD Mining received at least 300 resumes from Canadian citizens or permanent residents, who applied to work at the proposed project.
The company did not hire one Canadian applicant to work at the mine, claiming they were not qualified.
"The documents we have already obtained through our court action clearly show the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not working for Canadians," said Mark Olsen, business manager of the CSWU Local 1611.
"I suspect that other documents being disclosed for the first time in court this week – likely on Wednesday when we make our arguments – will provide even more evidence that our concerns are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg."
Given all the problems that have already been revealed in this case, Olsen wants the federal government to make several significant changes to the TFW program.
"Available jobs need to go to Canadians first and Canadians need to be skilled up in order to do the work," he said.
"There has to be a real shortage determined and that is where unions come in. Unions should be involved to determine if there is a real shortage."
Once a real shortage is identified, Olsen said the foreign workers have to be brought into the country properly, not by brokers or companies that will exploit them.
Once in Canada, foreign workers need to be paid to the full Canadian wages and benefits standard, he said.
In addition, there needs to be enforcement by the federal and provincial government.
Finally, there needs to be a path toward citizenship.
"That's what needs to happen across the country," said Olsen. "The federal and provincial governments need to get their act together."
After obtaining a list of fast-tracked TFW applications using an Access to Information request, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) agrees that the problems with HD Mining are just the tip of the iceberg.
The document lists all approved TFW applications in the first eight months of the new Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) process.
According to the AFL, more than 2,400 ALMO guest-worker permits were granted to fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations between April 25 and Dec. 18, 2012.
These permits are supposed to be reserved for highly-skilled employment.
The AFL is calling on the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a full audit of the ALMO approval process.
"Alberta is leading the way in misusing this approval process," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
"This isn't being used as a stop-gap, and it isn't a last resort for employers."
More than 54 per cent (2,640) of the ALMO approvals in the country were for Alberta-based employers. Of these, AFL researchers said more than 58 per cent (1,542) were questionable.
The list of businesses in Alberta who received ALMO approvals included 33 A&W restaurants.
The Journal of Commerce, Monday, Apr. 08, 2013
Byline: Richard Gilbert, staff writer
Petroleum Human Resources Council acquired by Enform Canada
CALGARY — The end of the $17.5-million federal sector council program has forced the marriage of the oil and gas industry's safety and human resources associations in Calgary.
The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, created as a sector council to study industry labour needs in 2001, announced on Monday that it will officially be acquired by safety training group Enform Canada.
The change will result in a staff reduction at the HR Council to eight from 13 as well as a reduced mandate as it focuses on its labour market analysis and careers information functions.
"The prime driver of this is the cancellation of the federal government's sector council program effective March 31," said Cheryl Knight, executive director of the HR Council, who will give up her title as chief executive.
"The acquisition by Enform of us is enabling us to continue to be an industry-directed non-profit association with support from industry but we can continue to access federal and provincial funding through projects."
She said Canada's 35 sector councils were notified in July 2011 their funding, $500,000 each per year, would disappear at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
In the case of the HR council, that added up to 75 per cent of its core budget.
The program's end comes a week after a federal budget which included the new Canada job grant program to fund training for the skills and trades most hurt by a lack of trained workers.
The program gives workers up to $15,000 in job training funds: $5,000 each from the federal government, the provinces and their employers.
The sector councils were also designed to address skills development issues in partnership with industry in key sectors of the economy.
Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, an HR Council supporter, said she's confident that industry will "step up" to continue work on safety and skills development, aided by federal government programs such as the job grants.
"The key is to back up and recognize there is a combination of research, of training programs, of demographic forecasting, all of which will need to continue in various ways," she said.
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the changes at the HR Council represent a setback for skills needs planning in Alberta because of less worker imput.
"These (sector councils) are the last organizations where working people had a real voice at the table," he said.
"Their function may continue with Enform but the process of tripartite (government, industry, worker) consultation is almost certainly going down the tubes."
Knight said the HR Council will do less in the areas of creating employer tools and working on immigrant employment but will continue to operate an oil and gas careers website with a job board.
Enform is a non-profit organization created by the oil and gas industry to promote safety standards in Canada's upstream industry through training, certifications, services and resources.
"The acquisition gives us access to valuable information and expertise to better align our training and safety services to industry workforce issues," said Enform president and CEO Cameron MacGillivray in a news release.
The two groups are supported by many of the same industry associations, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, and they share office space at 5055 11th St. N.E.
Enform, with 120 staff, also has training centres near Edmonton and at Fort St. John, B.C., plus an office in Regina.
The HR Council is often cited in the media in stories about skills needs, such as a warning last spring that Canada's oil and gas industry will need to fill a minimum of 9,500 jobs by 2015.
Other sector councils have also turned to the private sector to fill the gap in funding.
Robert Donald, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace, said Monday his group also shares office space to cut costs.
He added the organization's mandate has been expanded to appeal to a greater range of industry sponsors and a magazine it once published has been cancelled.
Another Ottawa-based sector council, the Aboriginal Human Resources Council, says on its website it is trying to increase private sector funding to make up for the $500,000 gap in its annual budget of $3 million to $4 million.
The Edmonton Journal, Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
Byline: Dan Healing, The Calgary Herald
CALGARY - Alberta business groups say a rejigged skills training program included in the most recent federal budget could offer some relief for the province's tight labour market.
Travis Davies of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says connecting the right workers with the right jobs is a "huge challenge" in the oilpatch, where skilled tradespeople such as pipefitters and plumbers are in high demand.
"To the degree that you can get support from both the federal government and the provincial government, it's very positive," he said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made skills training a centrepiece of the 2013-14 budget with the Canada Job Grant.
Ottawa, provincial governments and employers would each shoulder a third of the $15,000 training grant, which is expected to come into effect about a year from now.
Ottawa still needs to get the provinces on side with the plan, and Quebec and Ontario have already expressed misgivings.
But in the West, where unemployment rates are very low, the idea is being embraced.
The man in charge of recruitment at oil producer Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX:CVE) called the announcement "exciting."
"I think it provides an opportunity and incentive for all appropriate stakeholders to work more closely together," he said.
"I think it's important to recognize that this is a piece of the puzzle. It's not something that was announced to be the ultimate solution."
Ben Brunnen, chief economist at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, called the job grant a "great first step" that is "key to helping to alleviate the labour challenges."
"What that does is it ensures that the provinces and the federal government and employers get together at the same table to make sure they get the right people with the right skills in the right job."
The labour tightness is not restricted to Alberta's all-important oil and gas industry, Brunnen said. The tourism and hospitality industries, for instance, are also having a tough time.
"It definitely permeates across the Alberta economy," he said. "There are particular occupations under pressure in Alberta that are confronted with relatively chronic shortages and increasingly, employers have been focusing on overseas and immigrants as solutions to the labour challenges."
Brunnen said the chamber also likes that there will be more of a focus on attracting talent within Canada than from overseas.
"That's been the big issue for employers — yes, there might be some Canadians that are unemployed but they just don't have the skills that we're looking for."
However, there are challenges in attracting workers to Alberta that don't have to do with training, Brunnen conceded.
"A lot of the demand for the energy sector is happening in the field, in the oilpatch. Those are in locations that are sometimes a little bit difficult to work in, or are sometimes a little bit remote."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the government's job training promises amount to a "fraud" so long as the temporary foreign worker program is an option.
The budget did include some new rules making it harder for employers to rely on the temporary foreign worker program.
"Employers in this country are not going to train workers aggressively as long as they have the option to use cheap, exploitable workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker program," said McGowan.
"We'll never have a system that actually promotes the training of the next generation of skilled trades as long as the temporary foreign worker program is continuously expanded, which is exactly what we've been seeing with the Harper government over the last five years."
Victoria Times Colonist, Friday, Mar. 22, 2013
Byline: Lauren Krugel, Canadian Press
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney continues to remove barriers to ensure Alberta's oilsands and construction industries have access to the skilled tradespeople they need. Last week, Kenney expanded a pilot program that allows foreign workers to change bosses, rather than being tethered to one employer for the duration of their stay.
We think that makes sense and provides a measure of flexibility for temporary workers, as well as some assurance they won't have to endure abuse from their bosses.
"This collapses what used to be a six-month, complicated, bureaucratic process into a one-step process, where they can get a work permit in 30 minutes at the airport," Kenney said.
For the past year, foreign steamfitters and pipefitters in the pilot project have been able to move freely between Alberta employers. Now, other in-demand tradespeople, including welders, heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights and carpenters will also be able to join the program.
A concern raised by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan bears noting. He says half the companies looking to hire foreign construction workers don't offer apprenticeship training programs - a shortcoming that should be remedied.
Canadians rightly expect skilled foreign workers to complement a homegrown workforce, not substitute for skills training. Both levels of government, and industry, need to ensure that young people, women and aboriginals, in particular, are given a chance to secure trades training so they can have access to lucrative and rewarding careers.
Calgary Herald Editorial, July 23 2012