May 2013: Alberta embracing The Better Way Campaign; 19th Annual Kids' Camp; AFL wins battle in fight against exploitation of Temporary Foreign Workers; Convention videos online at AFL Yo...
Urgent Action: Alberta embracing The Better Way Campaign
Since April 1, moviegoers all over Alberta have been getting a message on the Better Way Alberta campaign. The message, in which Albertans are "thanked" for giving away their oil and gas so cheaply, has been shown before every movie on 188 screens.
The Better Way Alberta campaign is a collaboration between the AFL and several member unions including HSAA, UNA and CUPE. Advertising, media and our website www.betterwayalberta.com all make the case for sensible budgeting that puts the best interest of people first, and includes research showing that royalties and taxes may need to be increased.
Check out the Better Way Alberta ad
Action Item: 19th Annual Kids' Camp
The AFL Kids' Camp is a five-day event that combines summer fun with educational activities.
The camp, which has been running for 19 years, has become a popular event on the AFL calendar. In 2013, the camp will be themed around the history of labour in Canada.
The camp is open to children of trade unionists belonging to unions affiliated to the Alberta Federation of Labour. Learning is combined with recreational activities such as canoeing, wall climbing, hiking, mine tour, rappelling, group challenges, crafts and swimming.
When: August 5 – 9, 2013
Where: Goldeye Centre near Nordegg on Goldeye Lake
Ages: 8 to 15 years
Forms package to be completed and mailed/faxed to the AFL offices by June 14, 2013
AFL wins battle in fight against exploitation of Temporary Foreign Workers
Recently announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program are a victory for Canadian labour rights.
The Federal government has eliminated the pay differential for TFWs, and indefinitely suspended the fast-track ALMO process for bringing in workers.
Although there is a lot of work left to be done in preventing employers from exploiting people coming to Canada for work, the Alberta Federation of Labour is proud that it has played a key role in bringing to light the ways in which the TFW program is being used to exploit workers and drive down wages.
"Exploitation is fundamentally unCanadian, that's why t this program doesn't sit well with Canadians," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "I'm proud of the work the AFL has done in investigating the TFW program, and proud as a Canadian that the public in this country won't stand for how this program is being used."
The AFL released the latest in a series of reports on the Temporary Foreign Worker program recently, showing that workers are being brought in regardless of prevailing economic conditions. During the recession, Alberta lost tens of thousands of jobs. Yet, employers brought in tens of thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers. In 2011, the economy recovered and began creating jobs. But there was a Temporary Foreign Worker present in Alberta for three of every four jobs created.
Convention videos online at AFL Youtube channelIf you missed it the first time, you can watch highlights from Alberta Federation of Labour's 48th constitutional convention on the internet.
For the first time, the proceedings have been made available to watch at the federation's youtube channel (youtube.com/ABFedLabour). Talks by speakers such as Allan Gregg, Jim Stanford, and Armine Yalnizyan have already been watched by hundreds of AFL affiliates and allies from as far away as California.
More than 7,000 people have already watched the videos, which were produced with the assistance of United Nurses videographer Jeremy Rittwage and the team from Listen Louder Productions. Videos that feature convention delegates being interviewed about what their unions mean to them are generating upwards of 300.
"There was a focused effort to make this convention relevant to people who couldn't be there in person," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "I'm proud to say that we accomplished that. The feedback from the videos has been extremely positive."
AFL offers solidarity to prison workers in struggle for workplace safetyThe Alberta Federation of Labour has raised concerns about the province's handling of a four-day wildcat strike by unionized employees of Alberta's prison system. The four-day strike was sparked by the government's refusal to address health and safety concerns at the new Remand Centre in Edmonton.
After the strike, the government has imposed fines of $450,000, and has sought to suspend the collection of union dues to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. Although the AUPE is not affiliated with the AFL, the government's draconian response has raised concern in the broader labour movement about the treatment workers can expect from the provincial Tories.
"Every crisis presents opportunities and this situation is no different. The government could have addressed the workers' legitimate safety concerns in a timely and balanced manner. This would have improved the important relationship between a government and these workers," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "But that opportunity has been squandered by threats, intimidation and now specter of punitive measures against the union. As a result, labour relations are worse now than they were before the strike."
BLOCK the PARTYAlbertans are standing together for a BLOCK (the) PARTY rally from 12-2 p.m. on May 25th to create a block against the policies and recent budget cuts that negatively impact families, the most vulnerable, and all sectors in Alberta.
The rally will be held at 45th Avenue between Gateway Boulevard and Calgary Trail S, just north of the Radisson Hotel, where the Conservative Party will be holding their policy convention.
Come together with other Albertans by the busloads and help us remind our leaders that there is a Better Way!
Did you know ...
• In 2007, Alberta's Royalty Review panel ruled that the province's rate of 58% for natural gas was too low. Today, the rate is 34%.
• Royalty giveaways since 2009 have cost Albertans at least $4.7 billion.
• Three of every four new jobs created in Alberta since 2010 have been filled by workers brought in under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
• May 22: Shooting the Messenger: The Need for Effective Whistleblower Protection in Alberta, (Parkland) – 7:00 PM Telus Centre, Room 134 U of A (87th Avenue)
• May 23-26: Canadian Association of Labour Media conference (calm.ca/conference)
• June 10-11: AFL Executive Council Retreat (Calgary)
• June 12: AFL Executive Council (Calgary)
• June 14: Deadline to register for AFL Kids Camp
OTTAWA — Changes to the ailing temporary foreign worker program unveiled Monday are little more than an admission of error and fall short of the massive overhaul the Conservative government promised, critics say.
The federal government announced it was dropping the confusing and seldom used 15-per-cent wage differential for foreign workers introduced in the last budget and temporarily suspending a controversial fast-track process brought in a year ago as a means of improving the program.
Effective immediately, employers will have to pay temporary foreign workers the prevailing regional wage average Canadian workers doing the same job earn because a plan to build in flexibility to account for experience and performance didn't work.
The Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process introduced last year to speed up the issuing of work permits was meant to better meet labour market demand in high-skill fields. Now, that too will be suspended pending a review of the program to make sure it's not being used to fill low-skill service jobs at, for example, Tim Hortons.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources parliamentary secretary Kellie Leitch made the announcement shortly after the government introduced its budget implementation bill.
"We are concerned about examples of the program not being used as intended. Canadians must always have the first crack at available jobs in our economy," Kenney said.
"The temporary foreign worker program was intended to fill acute labour shortages on a temporary basis only, not to displace Canadian workers."
A total of seven changes were introduced Monday. They include regulatory and administrative reforms as well as legislative changes contained in the budget that require the approval of Parliament.
Critics, however, argued the two key measures are simply a reversal of earlier mistakes.
"This is not the first time, as you know, that the Conservatives have said that they wanted to fix the program. Twice already they said that they were going to do that but then made things even worse," NDP human resources critic Chris Charlton said.
The NDP and other critics have complained the wage differential ultimately drove down wages and working conditions.
Charlton said the new measures don't address the need to recruit, hire and train Canadians first or the need for better labour-market information. There's also nothing in it to address unfair treatment and the rights of workers, she said, adding a comprehensive review is needed.
"The reality is, they have made an absolute mess of the temporary foreign worker program," she said.
"What we really need is a proper study with outside experts to make sure we get it right this time."
Liberal human resources critic Rodger Cuzner added the government may be "trying to sell this announcement as new reforms" but the truth is that it's simply promising to enforce rules that already exist.
Worse, it's "an embarrassing reversal" of changes the Harper government introduced in recent years, he said, adding he will introduce a motion asking a Commons committee to study the program.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, meanwhile, released a report Monday that found three out of four jobs created in the provinces over the last few years have been filled by temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians. When 8,600 jobs were lost in 2010, the province still admitted some 23,000 foreign workers, president Gil McGowan said.
He said the program is "not filling a need" but is "flooding the market," that it's become the "a first choice for employers rather than a last resort." McGowan added that the food-services industry has become a "low wage ghetto" in booming Alberta, where seniors looking to earn a little extra cash and teenagers looking for their first job are paying the price.
"It's clear at least in the province of Alberta that the program is being used to displace Canadians from employment, it's being used as a tool to suppress wages and it's giving employers and excuse to abdicate their responsibility to train the next generation of Canadians," he said, adding it's affecting construction trades as well as the service industry.
Among measures introduced Monday is a plan to boost the government's authority to suspend or revoke work permits and labour-market opinions, the latter of which pave the way for work permits to be issued where there is a genuine shortage of Canadian workers.
In the wake of a recent instance in which Royal Bank of Canada employees found themselves training temporary foreign workers to take over their jobs, the government said it will add new questions to employer applications to ensure the program isn't being used to outsource Canadian jobs.
The reforms are in addition to several already laid out in the 2013 budget.
Employers will also need to broaden the length and reach of job postings and produce a plan for transitioning to a Canadian workforce over time when applying for permits under the program.
New user fees for employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers are also expected to offset costs currently absorbed by taxpayers.
The government is also taking steps to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations so that companies cannot make knowledge of a language other than French or English a requirement when hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.
"These changes will strengthen and improve the temporary foreign worker program to support our economic growth and recovery," Leitch said.
While agricultural employers could see permits revoked if companies are found to have misused the program, seasonal agricultural workers will otherwise be unaffected by the reforms.
An ongoing review of the program that began in fall 2011 will continue and more reforms are expected this fall, following a second round of consultations with businesses, trade organizations, unions and other stakeholders.
Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013
Byline: Tobi Cohen, PostMedia News
Two federal ministers yesterday jointly announced changes in the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including a "temporary suspension" of the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion program criticized by labour leaders.
But one high profile labour leader described the announced changes as "simply public relations."
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour told CBC news after the Ottawa announcements that "the Harper government has blinked, but it hasn't backed down."
McGowan and his federation hold a thick file of Accelerated Labour Market Opinions they gained by filing Freedom of Information requests to the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. They say it demonstrates deep flaws in the process that allows companies to hire foreign workers ahead of Canadians who might expect to be paid more or have more flexibility to resist poor working conditions.
The 93 page document lists 4,839 employers across Canada approved to use the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) initiative in getting government permission to bring temporary workers into Canada from offshore. Although the ALMO program was described, when it was launched last April as applying to "employers hiring temporary foreign workers in higher skilled positions such as: management, professional and technical occupations," union researchers who have examined the document say that more than half the employers cited (often in the fast food, restaurant, hospitality and farming sectors) seem unlikely to require many foreign professionals and experts.
B.C. had the highest rate of employers using the ALMO fast track rated as "questionable" by researchers, with 628, or 65 per cent of the employers listed seen as dubious.
Labour organizations in B.C. and Alberta want the Auditor General to investigate.
Progam is 'discredited': BCFED's Sinclair
Canada's procedures for bringing temporary foreign workers into the country have attracted public scrutiny and criticism for the limited rights they accord agricultural workers and for recent scandals involving Canadian workers at the Royal Bank of Canada being required to train foreign workers who will take their jobs and for corporate attempts to bring Chinese miners into the country to dig B.C. coal.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has been greatly expanded since the Conservatives took power in 2006, "is discredited, and has lost public support," president Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour told The Tyee. "Since they came to power the Conservatives have been turning on the tap. Before then there was a very modest program that brought in actors, musicians and medical professionals, but now all of the top five categories of foreign workers being brought in are low skilled.
Sinclair says the latest Freedom of Information "revelations about the ALMO initiative demonstrate why the program is broken. It needs to be scrapped or reformed to return it to its original intentions. What we have in Canada isn't a worker shortage. It's a wage shortage. We shouldn't be turning Canada into a cheap labour zone."
In an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star on April 16, Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti agrees. "Today," he writes, "companies are employing nearly 340,000 migrant workers -- more than our annual intake of permanent newcomers. Between 2007 and 2011, 30 per cent of all net new jobs in Canada went to migrant workers -- during a period of high unemployment in this country. This is a concern. If employers need migrant workers to do jobs year after year, then let's admit it is not a temporary situation."
In 2009, Georgetti notes, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that his department would publish online a list of employers found to be flouting the rules and they would be subject to sanctions. Four years later, he said, that "bad-boss" website doesn't contain a single name of a single company.
Kenney, along with Canada's minister of human resources, Diane Finley, made the announcement of program reforms yesterday (see sidebar).
'Lipstick on a pig'
But the Alberta Federation of Labour's McGowan told the CBC that that while a few of the announced changes marked small improvements, in balance the government was engaging in a public relations exercise, and in some instances, lying outright. McGowan said that when the ministers said that most temporary foreign workers were not being paid less than Canadian workers currently, the statement was "simply a lie." The program, even if the announced changes are fully implemented, will remain a "low wage program that exerts a structural downward pressure on wages," McGowan said.
"What the ministers did today," the visibly angry labour leader said, "was try to put lipstick on a pig."
Even Canada's top banker, Mark Carney, hardly a spokesperson for organized labour, has recently spoken out about the dangers of temporary foreign worker programs. The head of the Bank of Canada, soon to leave for a new posting in the UK, told a Parliamentary committee on April 23, according to the Globe and Mail, that the main purpose of the foreign worker program should be to help companies fill high-skill jobs for which there simply are too few Canadians who are adequately trained.
The program also should fill "temporary gaps" in the labour market, but avoid creating incentives for companies to avoid training Canadian workers, Carney said.
He added that the government must guard against abuse; otherwise, the effect will be to put downward pressure on wages, which in turn leaves companies with an excuse to avoid becoming more productive because they can keep up with demand by hiring cheap labour.
Fast food outlets prominent on 'accelerated' list
B.C. employers listed on the government document of ALMO users include McDonald's, Tim Horton's, Domino's Pizza, Burger King and smaller operations such as Solly's Bakery and Maurya Indian cuisine. Several of the employers appear to be blueberry farmers, despite the government statement when the initiative was launched that it would not apply to agricultural workers or workers in the film industry.
Several mining firms, including Goldcorp Inc., Teck Coal Ltd and the Western Coal Corporation are listed, as are the Big White Ski Resort and Sun Peaks. A few public bodies like health authorities and universities are also listed as ALMO employers, as well as Vancouver retail icons Lululemon and Mountain Equipment Co-op.Margaret Wheeler, senior vice president at Lululemon, told The Tyee that her firm employs 102 workers from offshore, of which 75 were hired through federal temporary foreign worker programs. Lululemon was not able to provide detail on how many of these 75 workers entered under the new ALMO option before this story was filed, but estimated about 50 of the workers were covered by the new fast track arrangement.
The Mountain Equipment Co-op, meanwhile, told The Tyee that it had only used the ALMO option once this year, to hire a U.S. design and merchandise planning expert. Tim Southam, who speaks for the co-op, emphasized that MEC does not hire front line retail staff through the temporary foreign worker program.
Tim Horton's 'strong track record'
Many of the other listed ALMO employers did not respond to Tyee requests for comment, but Alexandra Cygall, who speaks for Tim Horton's, did reply by email. She told The Tyee that:
"The Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion is offered to employers with a strong track record in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, such as Tim Horton's, in order for us to hire high-skill workers to fill positions of Supervisors and Managers. These individuals often have many years of industry experience and education within the restaurant and hospitality industries and are crucial to our business. Every Tim Horton's restaurant requires at least four supervisors and one manager to handle our 24/7 business.
Tim Horton's and our restaurant owners have been hiring Temporary Foreign Workers since 2005, mostly in areas where there is a shortage of labour such as the West. Our owners turn to the temporary foreign worker program after they have exhausted all other avenues to fill job vacancies locally. Without this employment program, many Tim Horton's restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all."
Cygal said she was unable to tell The Tyee how many foreign workers Tim Horton's had imported because individual restaurant franchise owners did their own hiring. Similarly, Barry Longhodge, speaking for Domino's Pizza, said that the parent company at Domino's had not done any ALMO hiring itself and was unaware of whether any franchise holders in BC had hired using the new fast track program.
John Gibson, who speaks for McDonalds, told The Tyee that nationally, his firm employs just over 2,000 "international recruits," who represent 2.5 per cent of the company's 80,000 Canadian employees. Most of these, he said, are sourced through temporary foreign worker programs, but he was unable to specify how many of the 2,000 were procured using the new accelerated option. In an April 26 email, Gibson told The Tyee that:
"Our priority is always to hire local employees in every one of our more than 1,400 restaurants nationwide, however, in recent years, tight labour conditions in some markets require that we recruit abroad to ensure we're able to continue to offer the level of service our customers have come to expect from us. This labour shortage is not unique to the food-service industry. We make every effort to hire locally before undertaking international recruiting. Just this past April, we held our third National Hiring Day -- which is a major component to our recruiting practices -- and hired over 5,700 new employees."
Audit ALMO say labour leaders
McGowan, the president of the Alberta labour central that commissioned the research into the ALMO initiative, is sceptical. In a press release, the labour leader says.
"You look down this list, and it's McDonalds, Tim Horton's, A&W, Subway Sandwiches. Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?"
McGowan is calling on the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, to conduct a complete audit of the ALMO process, a demand that the BC Federation of Labour Jim Sinclair told The Tyee that he supports.
CHANGES TO TFWP ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, April 29, Ministers Kenney and Finley announced changes in their government's embattled temporary foreign worker programs. The changes, they said, would:
- Effective immediately, require employers to pay temporary foreign workers at the prevailing wage by removing the existing wage flexibility;
- Effective immediately, temporarily suspend the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process;
- Increase the Government's authority to suspend and revoke work permits and Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) if the program is being misused;
- Add questions to employer LMO applications to ensure that the TFWP is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs;
- Ensure employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a firm plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce over time through the LMO process;
- Introduce fees for employers for the processing of LMOs and increase the fees for work permits so that the taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the costs;
- Identify English and French as the only languages that can be used as a job requirement.
The Tyee, Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013
Byline: Tom Sandborn
Unions and migrant workers' advocacy groups warned Human Resources Minister Diane Finley of potential for abuse.
Last year the government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), indicating that it would fast-track the processing of employer applications for migrant workers and allow employers to pay them up to 15-per-cent less than prevailing wages. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) warned that those changes would make an already flawed program worse. I met with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley shortly after the announcement and provided her with a book of abuses that one of our affiliates had compiled. The CLC urged Finley not to implement the changes and to conduct a thorough review of the program.
Now the chickens have come home to roost. The events last week with the Royal Bank of Canada are not isolated. This follows on the heels of unions in British Columbia in court battling the government's decision to approve HD Mining's use of offshore coal miners after the company rejected the applications of hundreds of Canadian miners.
The Alberta Federation of Labour recently found that the federal government has granted thousands of fast-tracked work permits designed for employers seeking high-skilled migrant workers under the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO). The documents show many migrant workers brought in under the ALMO process are actually toiling in fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
We shouldn't be surprised, given the repeated warnings sounded by unions and migrant workers' advocacy groups. What is surprising is that Finley has not offered her resignation over the issue. She should do the right thing and resign over what has happened on her watch.
The Conservative government has been determined to alter the national workforce. The 2007 budget document said, "it is our government's intention to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world." The TFWP has been the key to that flexibility. The same 2007 budget allowed Canada's employers to have access to temporary foreign workers "for any legally recognized occupation from any country," eliminating the previous limitation to occupations with recognized labour shortages.
Today, companies are employing nearly 340,000 migrant workers — more than our annual intake of permanent newcomers. Between 2007 and 2011, 30 per cent of all net new jobs in Canada went to migrant workers — during a period of high unemployment in this country. This is a concern. If employers need migrant workers to do jobs year after year, then let's admit it is not a temporary situation.
My grandfather came to Canada as a migrant worker. But there was nothing temporary about it. He was proud to become a Canadian citizen, as were so many of our parents and grandparents. Shouldn't we offer migrant workers a meaningful pathway to permanent residency and welcome their families?
Employers have been quick to take advantage of the loophole that Finley provided in April 2012. After announcing the up to 15-per-cent lower-wages scheme, she promised a new monitoring initiative to make sure the rules were being followed. Sadly, that initiative indicated that no more than 20 per cent of employer applications would be reviewed and only after employers had already received permission to hire migrant workers.
The government says that employers and labour brokers have to abide by the rules. Two of the criteria they must meet are: Has the employer attempted to hire or train available Canadians or permanent residents? Will the employer ensure the migrant worker will be paid substantially the same wage rate? There is ample evidence to show that these rules are being blatantly disregarded.
In 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that his department would publish online a list of employers found to be flouting the rules and they would be subject to sanctions. Four years later, that bad-boss website doesn't contain a single name of a single company.
Tripling the size of the migrant workforce in just 10 years, and allowing employers to pay migrant workers less, can only result in wages being driven down for everyone. It is unfair to both workers in Canada and to migrant workers.
The government must redress the ongoing problems with the TFWP. In 2009, the auditor general, after finding significant problems with the program, recommended a comprehensive review. Finally the prime minister has announced that a review will take place, but will it be transparent and meaningfully involve all stakeholders? Solutions do exist. For example, the CLC is calling on the government to establish a National Migrant Worker Commission. It must have real regulatory and enforcement powers to protect migrant workers' rights and ensure that our national labour force is fully utilized.
Ken Georgetti is president of the 3.3 million member Canadian Labour Congress.
The Star Commentary, Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013
Byline: Ken Georgetti, CLC
The province is investigating claims by nine former employees of a Whyte Avenue tattoo and bodypiercing shop that they didn't receive severance pay and T4 slips after they were laid off last month.
"It was shocking for us, really," said Sarai Jorgenson, former manager of Strange City Body Modification. "On Tuesday, we had a job and on Wednesday we didn't."
Jorgenson says Revenue Canada froze the company bank account in March.
After employees became concerned, the owner agreed to lay them off.
Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. (CBC)
Instead, workers say their records of employment indicate that they quit, meaning that they can't qualify for Employment Insurance.
Some were able to find new jobs. But others are struggling without EI.
"It's really been devastating for all of us," Jorgenson said. "We loved our jobs, we loved the studio, we loved our clients."
The owner of Strange City, Richard Blaskievich, declined an interview with CBC News, but said he has met with his former employees and is trying to work things out.
CBC News has learned Blaskievich has filed for bankruptcy twice before. His last claim in 2010 lists a debt to Canada Revenue worth more than $430,000.
The former workers have spread word about their plight through social media.
The case has caught the attention of the province's largest labour group, the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This story frankly smells pretty bad and I think it definitely warrants a pretty serious investigation by the provincial government's employment standards officials," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
The Alberta Employment Standards branch has received a formal complaint and will investigate.
CBC News, Friday, Apr 12 2013
Canada's temporary foreign workers vulnerable to exploitation
OTTAWA—José Sicajau, a Guatemalan man of Indigenous descent, had grown accustomed to exploitative conditions after several years as a Temporary Foreign Worker growing vegetables on a farm in Saint-Michel, Quebec, less than an hour south of Montreal.
But when his boss allegedly attacked a Mexican co-worker in 2006, striking him with an aluminum pole because the assembly of an irrigation system was not going as planned, Sicajau ran out of patience.
"That was the end for me," said Sicajau, 45, speaking through a translator in November. He was in Ottawa with a delegation of human rights activists, touring the region to denounce the program that first brought him to Canada nearly a decade ago.
Some advocates for migrants want the Temporary Foreign Worker Program abolished, calling it racist and exploitative. Unions say the program is designed to weaken labour power in Canada. The NDP calls it a flawed system that takes jobs from Canadians. But business leaders say it is key to economic growth.
Canada is receiving more Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) than ever. The Low-Skill Pilot Project—a TFW stream that bars workers from applying for permanent residency—grew by over 2,000 per cent between 2002 and 2010.
TFWs now work in nearly every sector of the Canadian economy: in kitchens and hotels, in the tar sands and on construction sites.
Nearly 30,000 "low-skilled" TFWs were in Canada in 2010, according to an October report published by Maytree, a left-leaning think tank.
And changes made in 2011 to the Low-Skill Pilot Project prevent workers from remaining in Canada for more than four years. Once their time has run out, these changes to the law prohibit them from working in Canada again until six years have passed, according to Joey Caluguay, a community organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre, a non-profit group in Montreal.
Caluguay says the TFW program should be abolished and the economy transformed so that workers are free from the vagaries of the marketplace.
"You don't create an economy where disposable workers are necessary, or where exploiting workers makes the economy run," says Caluguay, who provides support to TFWs in the Montreal area, including Filipino machinists and Jamaican landscapers.
Experts predict that in 2015, when visas expire under the new law, a huge number of migrants may remain in Canada as undocumented workers, making them vulnerable to unrestrained abuse at the hands of employers and unable to access social services, says Naomi Alboim, Professor of policy studies at Queen's University and co-author of the Maytree report.
"They're already in a very precarious position," says Alboim. "Once they become undocumented, that will increase very significantly."
In Guatemala City, Sicajau co-founded an association committed to defending the rights of migrants after his experience in Canada's Low-Skill Pilot Project. He says the number of Guatemalans in this "low-skill" stream reached 6,000 last year.
Ten years ago, he was among the first.
A farmer by trade, he worked a plot of land with his family in rural Guatemala, raising corn and vegetables before learning about the TFW program from a food-export co-operative.
He would leave his wife, children and grandchildren for months at a time to work in Canada. Then the alleged attack by his employer prompted him and his co-workers to file a complaint with Quebec's labour standards board. The complaint was rejected for lack of evidence, despite the testimony of three migrant workers, a decision Sicajau attributes to racism.
When he returned to Guatemala, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) demanded that he retract the complaint, according to Sicajau.
When he refused, he says, the agency blacklisted him. Since then, the IOM has been replaced by the Foundation for Entrepreneurs Recruiting Foreign Agricultural Workers (FERME), an association of Quebec farmers with an agency operating in Guatemala.
"We gave our everything to work here and to help support the Canadians," Sicajau says. "And as a consequence of denouncing this, we're kicked out of the program."
He added that the head of the IOM who allegedly threatened him now works for FERME.
To Sicajau, the importance of the work performed by so-called "low skilled" workers in Canada—such as farm labour—is underrated.
"Farming is very difficult because you have to work the land, you have to remove the rocks and stones, you have to plant your seeds and tend to the earth," Sicajau says. "It's sacred work that they do to put food on the table."
Adrian Smith, a Professor of law and legal studies at Carleton University and a member of the non-profit group Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), says TFWs are vulnerable to exploitation because their visa is linked to a single employer. Rocking the boat can lead to deportation.
"You have to put up with the nonsense that the employer imposes on you," Smith says.
Some TFWs have been killed in Canada, like 39-year-old Jamaican farm labourer Ned Livingston Peart, who was crushed by an iron bin while trying to load a tobacco kiln. Others have been injured while performing dangerous work, or have grown ill from exposure to pesticides.
Indigenous people like Sicajau often find themselves pushed into migrant labour by grinding poverty, ecological destruction and political violence, Smith adds. These conditions make people willing to tolerate abusive employers overseas.
Smith argues that wealthy countries contribute to these conditions through policies like free trade agreements that allow corporations to run rampant. Canada, he says, should allow migrants to stay.
But Conservative MP Rick Dykstra defended the restrictions imposed on migrant workers when questioned by The Dominion as he paused in the lobby outside the House of Commons before a vote.
"Temporary foreign worker program," said Dykstra, a member of the House of Commons immigration committee. "It's not a path to permanent residency."
When asked to justify this policy, Dykstra said: "We need folks to do the work, and there's an opportunity for [TFWs] to fulfil that obligation."
Dykstra said he was unaware of any TFWs being abused. He also said any employer that abused a worker would be blacklisted. The "ineligible employers" list has been blank since it appeared on the Immigration Canada website in 2011.
Top industry associations have praised the TFW program for addressing what they call an acute labour shortage in Canada.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, in a July 2012 report, called labour shortages "one of the greatest threats" to potential development of energy resources, including the burgeoning oil and gas sector—although unemployment rates have remained stubbornly high, especially among youth.
The report also hailed "the proposed expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program."
Rapid tar sands development has meant the job market has been in recruitment mode in Alberta, but labour shortages have developed across the country, according to Corinne Pohlmann, Vice-President of National Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"The Temporary Foreign Worker Program became a very important tool for employers to fill those gaps," Pohlmann says, adding that many businesses want the process sped up.
Before issuing a temporary visa to a migrant worker, Service Canada is supposed to check whether the employer has attempted to train or hire Canadians.
The bureaucratic process made headlines in October with reports that a Vancouver-based mining corporation had recruited 200 low-paid Chinese workers after posting ads seeking Mandarin-speaking workers. Critics called this a clear signal that the company never intended to hire Canadian workers.
The story of the mine workers became a political football in the House of Commons, with NDP Immigration Critic Jinny Sims saying those jobs should belong to Canadians.
Sims did not reply to an interview request, but stated during Question Period in December that "Canadian jobs are still being given away" under the TFW program.
Nearly 30 per cent of all new jobs created between 2007 and 2011 were for TFWs, according to Canadian Auto Workers Economist Jim Stanford.
Stanford argues that the program puts downward pressure on wages because employers are allowed to pay TFWs up to 15 per cent less than the average local wage earned by Canadians.
Groups including the Alberta Federation of Labour have called the TFW program an effort to drive down wages and working conditions while bypassing unions.
According to Alboim, many of those jobs could employ people who tend to struggle with unemployment, including refugees and new immigrants. "There are people in this country for whom these jobs would be important entries to the labour market," Alboim says. She argues that the Low-Skilled Pilot Project should be abolished.
To Smith, Canada's temporary worker schemes summon memories of the 19th century, when Chinese labourers were recruited to perform the most dangerous and low-paying work on the construction of the railway.
"Over time, we have used so-called foreign labour to do the heavy lifting of this country, to develop much of the infrastructure," says Smith. "It's incumbent on us to open up our conception of who belongs, [of] who's a citizen."
The Dominion, a media cooperative, Apr. 12, 2013
Byline: David Koch, freelance writer
Program intended to address shortages in high-skill jobs
A federal program intended to fast-track skilled workers into Canada is instead being used by a "who's who" of fast-food chains and service industry companies to import low-wage employees, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The AFL said Tuesday its research found half the successful applications for temporary foreign workers under the "accelerated labour market opinion" (ALMO) program last year were from employers who typically employ low-skilled workers, such as fast-food chains, gas stations and convenience stores.
"What's disturbing to us about the list is the majority of applications were for employers that were not normally employing highly-skilled workers," AFL president Gil McGowan said.
"It's a who's who of the Canadian service industry sector."
By the numbers: How the program is used in Alberta
The initiative, started by the government last April, gives employers with an established track record in the temporary foreign workers program the necessary go-ahead within 10 business days.
Employers who want to hire a temporary foreign worker must first get a labour market opinion from the federal government agreeing there is no Canadian capable of filling the position.
When it launched the program last April, the government said the initiative was intended to address labour shortages in "high-skill occupations," including skilled trades.
But McGowan said documents obtained by the AFL under access-to-information legislation demonstrate otherwise.
Temporary Foreign Worker Approvals
According to the AFL, half of 4,839 ALMO approvals nationwide between April and December 2012 were "questionable" because they were granted to companies that employ mainly unskilled workers.
Alberta had the highest number of ALMO applications of any province or territory: 2,640.
The AFL considered 58 per cent of Alberta applications — 1,542 — as questionable.
"It stretches the bounds of credulity that all these employers have been using the program to hire highly-skilled workers or managers," McGowan said.
However, one well-known Canadian company included on the list of ALMO applicants — Tim Hortons — said it has a legitimate need for a high number of skilled workers.
"These individuals often have many years of industry experience and education within the restaurant and hospitality industries and are crucial to our business," spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal said via email.
"Every Tim Hortons restaurant requires about four supervisors and at least one manager to handle our 24/7 business."
Tim Hortons franchisees have been hiring temporary foreign workers since 2005, but Cygal stressed they do so only after exhausting their options locally.
"Without this employment program, many Tim Hortons restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all," she said.
The AFL has asked federal auditor general Michael Ferguson to investigate the ALMO initiative.
The AFL's concerns come just days after reports the Royal Bank of Canada is laying off 45 employees in Toronto and replacing a portion of them with foreign workers and outsourcing the remainder of positions abroad.
RBC has denied the report, saying it is not using foreign workers to replace employees in Canada.
A spokeswoman for Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley said Tuesday the government is "very concerned" about the recent controversies involving the temporary foreign worker program.
"The program exists to address real and acute labour shortages in certain sectors and regions across the country on a temporary basis. It was never meant to replace Canadians with foreign workers," Alyson Queen said in an emailed statement.
"Officials are investigating and will look into any evidence that the program is being misused."
Although McGowan has specific criticisms of the ALMO process, the AFL wants the temporary foreign worker program abolished.
The program allows employers to pay temporary workers up to 15 per cent less for high-skill positions and up to five per cent below average wages for low-skill jobs — but not lower than the local minimum wage.
"The real problem is not rogue employers, but the temporary foreign worker program itself," McGowan said.
Calgary Herald, Thursday, Apr 11 2013
Byline: Jason Van Rassel
Todd Bender doesn't seem like he'd be in the market for temporary foreign workers: He's executive director of CityKidz, a faith-driven group working with young people in inner-city Hamilton. His focus is local.
But three years ago, while hiring a youth coordinator, the hiring team realized their preferred candidate – a young woman from the Bahamas who had been studying in Canada – didn't have the right visa to work in the country.
"It wasn't until near the end of the interview process the question came up, and by then we were committed," Bender said. So they started filling out paperwork.
"It was quite a learning curve. ... I remember feeling there were just a lot of hoops to jump through," he said. Every year they wanted to keep the woman on, they had to re-post the position and go through an interview process again.
"She was here for three years. Did a phenomenal job. It worked out great," he said. By the time she left, she was awaiting her Canadian citizenship.
Who's hiring temporary foreign workers?
Lots of people: A range of companies and government agencies, according to a document posted online by the Alberta Federation of Labour, obtained through a freedom-of-information request. It lists 90 pages of employers, including the company name and province of each, but not whom they hired, when or for what work.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada told Global News it couldn't give out those details because "the information requested is not public."
The Bank of Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Tim Hortons, McDonald's, Maple Leaf Foods, the City of Vancouver, the Edmonton Police Service and eateries of various vintages are among the thousands of employers who've been approved for accelerated labour market opinions: Their need for foreign workers, they said (and the federal government agreed), was so urgent they required an expedited approval process.
Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker program came under scrutiny this week over claims Royal Bank of Canada was replacing Canadian employees with workers contracted from overseas. The ensuing furor was enough to prompt a public apology from RBC Thursday.
stensibly designed for urgently needed skilled labour, statistics from Human Resources and Skills Development indicate the largest group is comprised of "intermediate and clerical" workers. The program "is intended as a last-resort, short-term solution so businesses can continue to grow," HRSDC said in an e-mail. Its swift growth has prompted concerns not just for Canadian workers, but for the rights of often vulnerable temporary ones.
While the spectre of outsiders stealing Canadian jobs looms large, the reality isn't quite so clear cut.
Global News contacted more than a dozen employers approved for accelerated labour market opinions to ask about their exceptional need for temporary foreign labour.
Many – including the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Maple Leaf Foods and Caterpillar Canada, whose closure of its Electro-Motive plant in London walloped the southwestern Ontario community – did not respond or refused to comment.
The Edmonton Police Service applied for expedited permission to hire temporary foreign workers when the people they wanted to hire – both already working in Canada – needed new visas.
"They were the most qualified," said spokesman David Schneider.
One was in charge of identifying and analyzing risks in the police service's environment; he moved on when his job was complete. The second is leading a review of the police service's policy and procedures.
Schneider noted candidates for these positions are "not easy to find: We look for backgrounds in policing plus skills in that particular area."
The city of Vancouver has hired three workers under the accelerated labour market opinion process, says spokeswoman Wendy Stewart. One is in planning and development, another was hired last year to provide specialized fire engineering services to the fire department, but has since returned to his home country; and one is joining the equipment services department.
"All of these individuals were hired following extensive recruitment processes which failed to identify interest on the part of equivalently qualified Canadian applicants," Stewart said in an email.
McDonald's Canada employs more than 2,000 "international recruits," a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.
Tim Hortons has been hiring temporary foreign workers since 2005, spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal wrote in an e-mail.
"Without this employment program," she added, "many Tim Hortons restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all."
The Conservative government has said it plans to tighten the rules and ensure employers have no Canadian option before recruiting workers from abroad.
"We have to do our due diligence, and we recognize that," MP Kellie Leitch said in an interview with Global News. "We have committed to reviewing this and fixing this program, because we realize there have been some discrepancies. ... We need to pick up our socks."
Global News, Thursday Apr 11 2013
The controversy over the outsourcing of dozens of Canadian jobs by the Royal Bank of Canada has put the spotlight on the much bigger issue of how Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program is being utilized.
The Alberta Federation of Labour added its voice to the debate Tuesday by calling for a review of the federal program because of concerns the program is being used to replace Canadians workers and drive down wages.
There appears to be legitimate cause for concern. The program was originally intended to assist employers in hiring temporary foreign workers to fill high-skill jobs because of the shortage of skilled workers already in Canada. Instead, the AFL points out that since the program was announced a year ago, more than 2,400 permits have been approved to hire foreign workers for low-skill service industry jobs.
The federal Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) program allows employers to pay foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than Canadian workers are paid. It also speeds up the process of hiring foreign workers so it can be done within 10 days.
It doesn't require a degree in rocket science to figure out that being able to pay workers 15 per cent less is going to be an attractive lure for business operators. And it appears businesses are taking full advantage of the opportunity.
"The percentage of ALMO approvals for businesses that largely employ low-skilled workers appears to be in direct contradiction to the stated parameters of the program," AFL president Gil McGowan wrote in a letter to federal auditor general Michael Ferguson.
In a Canadian Press story in Wednesday's Herald, McGowan noted that documents obtained through the Access to Information Act show that employers using the ALMO program include fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
"Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?" McGowan asked.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, defended the federal program, saying many small- and medium-size employers need temporary foreign workers to fill jobs, and the need is most pressing in Western Canada and in rural communities across Canada.
"I take it as a positive that businesses of all skill levels are able to access this expedited process," said Kelly. "Our members really need those expedited processes."
The issue, however, is are those workers preventing Canadians from landing those jobs?
McGowan suggested a couple of ways employers could deal with the difficulty in finding workers - they can either offer higher wages or the federal government can increase immigration. Of course, offering higher wages isn't an attractive option for businesses, and for those just squeaking by, it might not be an option at all.
But the bottom line is it appears the federal temporary foreign worker program is not being used the way it was intended, and that warrants an investigation.
Lethbridge Herald Opinion, Thursday, Apr 11 2013
OTTAWA—The federal government is investigating the possible abuse of the temporary foreign workers hiring program by Canadian companies and is expected to overhaul it to put greater onus on businesses to seek out local employees before bringing in foreign workers.
Businesses that are turning to foreign workers to fill employee shortages are also expected to be required in future to do more to train Canadians for the skilled job vacancies now going to people from overseas, a senior government official said.
The review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has taken on new urgency as Prime Minister Stephen Harpers' government faces a firestorm of complaints that its policies are encouraging firms in Canada to replace Canadians with foreign workers and drive down wages.
"The Conservatives are enabling companies to exploit the program and avoid hiring Canadian workers," NDP deputy immigration critic Sadia Groguhé said Wednesday. "The point of the program is to complement Canadian workers, not substitute them."
Outrage over the government's foreign hiring plan blew up after it emerged that the Royal Bank of Canada was planning to shift the information technology work done by 45 Canadian employees to foreigners contracted by iGate, a U.S.-based outsourcing firm.
But the issue has been gathering steam since last year, when HD Mining International Ltd., a Chinese-backed coal mining operation in British Columbia, brought in 201 miners from China under the temporary workers program.
The federal government is investigating the applications leading up to the staffing changes at RBC and is also conducting a wider look at the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has doubled in the last decade to 338,000 workers.
In the March 21 federal budget, the government said it planned to reform the program to ensure foreign workers are brought in only when Canadians are "genuinely" not available. The new rules will require employers to make more extensive efforts — including more advertising — to hire Canadians before becoming eligible to bring in foreign workers.
The government also wants to work with employers who "legitimately" rely on foreign workers to ensure the companies have a plan to move to a Canadian workforce, the budget said.
As well, the reforms would require companies to pay user fees to apply for permission to bring in foreign workers. But officials haven't said when the new rules will be put in place.
The government is also concerned about another recent measure for bringing in foreign workers quickly. The Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) is a way to fast-track applications for skilled workers needed on a temporary basis by Canadian companies.
The Alberta Federation of Labour focused attention on this aspect of Canada's temporary worker arrangements after it obtained a list of 4,800 companies — many in the services industry — that were approved to bring in temporary help under ALMO last year.
"You look down this list and it's McDonalds, Tim Hortons, A&W, Subway Sandwiches," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan. "Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?"
The government is looking at how "skilled workers" are defined under this program, a senior official said. Currently, a manager or supervisor in a service business can qualify as a skilled worker under the program, the official noted.
The government is "committed to fixing the (temporary worker) program to ensure that Canadians have first crack at jobs in Canada," a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said. "The program exists to address real and acute labour shortages in certain sectors and regions across the country on a temporary basis. It was never meant to replace Canadians with foreign workers."
The Harper government is also concerned about another federal program called an intra-company transfer, which allows multinational companies to temporarily shift employees to Canada without the need to convince Ottawa that no Canadian can do the job. This measure is also being examined to see if it is being abused by companies wanting to avoid the usual procedures for bringing in foreign employees, the official said.
Ottawa Star, Wednesday Apr 10 2013
Byline: Les Whittington