Harper government offers TFW loopholes to low-wage employers

“Cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” move on TFWP breaks promise to Canadians  by extending work permits and “fiddling” with caps

Edmonton – The Harper government has caved in to pressure from low-wage employers who want to hold on to exploitable temporary foreign workers for a longer period of time.

In a document sent to employers last week, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have already applied for permanent residency under the Alberta government’s provincial nominee program may be allowed to stay. There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency.

“This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is a deal that was cooked up behind closed doors with the federal government, the Alberta government and low-wage employers. It flies in the face of the promises that were made to Canadians.”

Kenney said in his letter that businesses will be allowed to exempt current low-wage guest workers from caps on the percentage of a workforce that can be made up of TFWs. Under reforms announced last June employers in Alberta were supposed to reduce the number of TFWs they have on staff to a maximum of 30 per cent of their workforces this year, 20 per cent next year, and 10 per cent the following year.

“Last June, the Harper Government promised to limit the number of TFWs that low-wage employers could use. But now, they’ve quietly broken their promise and changed the rules.” McGowan said.

McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly “cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.

“The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government’s Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education,” McGowan said.

“So this isn’t an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it’s all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year. To put it another way, they’re giving their friends in the low-wage service sector what they’ve been asking for and they’re giving TFWs false hope. They’ve framed their scheme in the convoluted way they have because they knew Canadians would be up in arms if they knew that this is really about letting low-wage employers hold on to TFWs for a longer period of time.”

The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.

“Canada is a country that has been built by immigration. But the TFWP is not immigration, it’s exploitation. That’s why we’ve called on the government to phase the program out. It’s also why we’ve called on them to grant citizenship to the TFWs who are already in the country. The reason these workers were distorting the labour market was because they were essentially serfs, not citizens,” McGowan said. “But now the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite on both counts. They’re letting employers keep their Temporary Foreign Workers for a longer period of time and they’re blocking paths to citizenship that could eliminate the underclass of exploitable guest workers that has been distorting the Canadian labour market. It’s shameful.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.orgp


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Ironworkers protest against jobs being given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

Edmonton – Workers in Edmonton took to the street on Thursday to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs).

In protest, workers rallied at noon on Thursday at the corner of 104th Street and 104th Avenue in Edmonton, across the street from the arena’s location. The workers carried signs reading “Built for Edmonton, Built By Edmonton,” and “Where’s The Home-Ice Advantage.”

“Denying an application to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) should have been an easy call when there are 300 workers qualified and ready to do the work just blocks away,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “It should have been an easy stop. Have the TFWP regulators pulled their goalie?”

Since the contract was awarded, and the applications were submitted, Ironworkers Local 720 has lobbied the city, the contractor and the federal government asking for the jobs to be made available to qualified Canadian workers, and for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits to be revoked. These requests have been rebuffed.

“This is the sort of project that ironworkers love to work on – It’s going to be a beautiful building. And in thirty years, local workers who had a part in it will point to it and tell their kids ‘I built that.’ We have literally hundreds of qualified tradespeople who are eager to do this job,” Ironworkers Local 720 business agent George Papineau said. “And most of these workers are local Edmontonians. They’re the sort of folks who haven’t given up on the Oilers season yet – which is why it’s so galling that the company building the new home of the Oilers has turned its back on them.”

Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. Since the project was first proposed, it has been plagued by concerns that the economic benefits would not go to residents of the city.

“Who is this arena for? Edmontonians were sold this project – and it was approved by the narrowest of margins – based on an argument that it would be good for the city. Is it good for the city for our tax dollars to go to American workers with no investment in the community? Is it good for the city that hundreds of Edmonton ironworkers are watching from the sidelines?” Edmonton and District Labour Council president Bruce Fafard said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan speaks to demonstrators outside of Edmonton’s arena project.

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Workers call for home-ice advantage

Protest against jobs given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

EDMONTON – Workers in Edmonton are taking to the street to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers.

“The guys who are supposed to stop the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from putting Canadians out of work have failed in their duty. How did these applications even make it past the blue-line?” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is the biggest own goal Edmonton hockey has seen since Steve Smith.”

Who:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
George Papineau, Business Agent, Ironworkers Local 720
Bruce Fafard, President, Edmonton & District Labour Council (EDLC)

When:
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., Thursday, January 15, 2015

Where:
Muster point at the corner of 104 Avenue and 104 Street, downtown Edmonton

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Canadian workers sidelined as arena construction done by TFWs

Edmonton – Some of the work on Edmonton’s new downtown arena is being done by Temporary Foreign Workers from the U.S. despite the fact that hundreds of qualified local ironworkers are available.

Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. 

“The federal government has repeatedly assured Canadians that permits for Temporary Foreign Workers would not be granted if there are any qualified Canadians available to do the job,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “And yet these applications for foreign ironworkers were approved for a project that’s within walking distance of 300 ironworkers on the jobs list at the Ironworkers 720 hiring hall.”

Contracts to build several portions of Edmonton’s Arena District were awarded to local firms that employ Canadian workers. Unfortunately, the crown jewel of the district, Rogers’ Place, was given to a firm that applied to the federal government to bring in workers from outside of Canada.

Based on the fact that there are more than enough workers ready and willing to tackle the project, trades organizations are petitioning the government to rescind any Temporary Foreign Worker Permits that had been granted for the project.

“This project was sold to Edmonton on a promise of jobs and economic benefits. But Canadian workers are being left on the sidelines, so the full benefits of this project aren’t being felt by the community,” McGowan said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”

“There were more than enough Albertan tradespeople eager to work on this project back when it started in the middle of last year while oil prices were sky high and the oil sands were going full throttle,” McGowan said. “Now that oil sands construction is slowing down, it’s even more offensive that Albertans aren’t benefitting from home-ice advantage.” 

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Cuts to early childhood project will hurt children and families

Project flagged Alberta’s failing grade on early childhood education

Edmonton – The government’s decision not to continue the Early Childhood Mapping Project will hurt children and families.

Using international standards for establishing Alberta’s early education baseline, the Early Childhood Mapping Project (ECMap) found that 29 per cent of Alberta’s young children experience developmental difficulties. These findings helped forge an emerging national consensus of early childhood learning, education and care.

“The ECMap Project did world-class work on a measly budget of $5-million a year.  The project’s major report was up on the ECMap website for two days, before the government asked that it be taken down,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Instead of being proud of the good work of this project, and instead of making their report widely available, the Government of Alberta has instead chosen to shut it down.”

The program found that investing in public, non-profit learning and care environments for children under the age of five is essential to ending child poverty. Such programs prepare children for the demands of Grade One, and improve health and social outcomes throughout the children’s lives.

“The decision to axe this program flies in the face of Tory promises to end child poverty in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Government’s actions show that early childhood education and care aren’t a priority for them.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour is advocating for concrete action to be taken by government on child poverty and on early childhood programs. At the Federation’s convention in 2013, hundreds of delegates unanimously passed motions calling for public child care. Rank-and-file members, elected union representatives and staff have actively lobbied MLAs for more funding of public child care.

“Some MLAs in the PC caucus do seem to understand the need for public investment in early learning and high-quality child care,” McGowan said. “Just last week, Edmonton Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux had a motion passed in the Legislature that urged the Government to review child care policies to ensure that accessible, high-quality, and affordable child care is available for all Albertans. Unfortunately, the government has not taken concrete action.”

 “This is an issue that matters deeply to our membership. Alberta’s union movement is now 54 per cent women. While this is an issue that affects all workers and their families, it’s an important area of social policy for women workers in particular. The AFL is committed to making sure the government hears the will of our membership loud and clear,” McGowan said.

For more information on the Early Childhood Mapping Project, see:

http://lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/opinions/2014/12/03/funding-cut-a-blow-to-albertas-children/

For the full text of MLA Matt Jeneroux’s motion, see:

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/houserecords/vp/legislature_28/session_3/20141208_1200_01_vp.pdf

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Cuts to early childhood programs will hurt children and families

Program flagged Alberta’s failing grade on early childhood education

Edmonton – Premier Prentice’s decision to cut the Early Childhood Mapping Project will hurt children and families.

Using international standards for establishing Alberta’s early education baseline, the ECMap program found that a third of Alberta’s five-year-olds experience developmental difficulties. These findings helped forge an emerging national consensus of early childhood learning, education and care.

“The ECMap Project did world-class work on a measly budget,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said, noting that the program cost just $5-million. “Instead of acting on the recommendations of this project, the Government of Alberta has instead chosen to shut it down.”

The project was created as part of the Department of Human Services’ Social Policy Framework. It found that investing in public, non-profit learning and care environments for children under the age of five is essential to ending child poverty. Such programs prepare children for the demands of Grade One, and improve health and social outcomes throughout the children’s lives.

“The decision to axe this program flies in the face of Tory promises to end child poverty in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Government’s actions show that early childhood education and care aren’t a priority for them.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour is advocating for concrete action to be taken by government on child poverty and on early childhood programs. At the Federation’s convention in 2013, hundreds of delegates unanimously passed motions calling for public child care. Rank-and-file members, elected union representatives and staff have actively lobbied MLAs for more funding of public child care.

“Some MLAs in the PC caucus do seem to understand the need for public investment in early learning and high-quality child care,” McGowan said. “Just last week, Edmonton Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux had a motion passed in the Legislature that urged the Government to review child care policies to ensure that accessible, high-quality, and affordable child care is available for all Albertans. Unfortunately, the government has not taken concrete action.”

 “This is an issue that matters deeply to our membership. Alberta’s union movement is now 54 per cent women. While this is an issue that affects all workers and their families, it’s an important area of social policy for women workers in particular. The AFL is committed to making sure the government hears the will of our membership loud and clear,” McGowan said.

For more information on the Early Childhood Mapping Project, see:

http://lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/opinions/2014/12/03/funding-cut-a-blow-to-albertas-children/

For the full text of MLA Matt Jeneroux’s motion, see:

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/houserecords/vp/legislature_28/session_3/20141208_1200_01_vp.pdf

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Alberta’s workplaces must tackle violence against women

Province should follow Ontario’s lead by addressing role of workplace in domestic violence

Edmonton – Saturday, Dec. 6, marks 25 years since the murder of 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.

At a brunch in commemoration of the event, Alberta Federation of Labour secretary treasurer Siobhán Vipond called on the government to take action, and to ensure workplaces become part of the solution to domestic violence.

“On December 6th, we must remember that violence against women affects us all, and in every aspect of our lives – including our workplaces,” Vipond said. “Domestic violence affects the immediate victims, as well as their children, their extended families, their friends, their co-workers.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour’s governing body has passed motions calling on the Government of Alberta to follow the Government of Ontario’s lead and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Code to include policies targeted at helping victims of domestic violence for whom the abuse follows them to work. Earlier this year, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 168, which placed a greater responsibility on employers to make sure employers are safe not just from occupational accidents, but threats from other people — whether co-workers, customers or other outside individuals.

“Domestic violence isn’t contained to the home – it follows victims to their workplaces.” Vipond said. “A recent study by the Canadian Labour Congress says that the cost to employers is about $77 million. But the cost to individuals and to families is much, much greater, and cannot be quantified.”

The study “Domestic Violence At Work” found that more than a third of women in Canada have experienced domestic violence – the majority of whom report the abuse continuing during their working days. Almost 40 per cent of those experiencing domestic violence had difficulty getting to work as a result of the abuse. For about nine per cent of victims, the effects of that violence have cost them their job.

“Women who are in abusive situations often face barriers to being taken seriously, and when they do come forward they are all too often targeted for additional harassment,” Vipond said. “These barriers must be challenged, the people who try to silence victims must be called out, and our workplaces must be made safer places for victims of domestic violence.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Province should follow Ontario’s lead by addressing role of workplace in domestic violence

EDMONTON – Saturday, Dec. 6, marks 25 years since the murder of 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.

At a brunch in commemoration of the event, Alberta Federation of Labour secretary treasurer Siobhán Vipond will call on the government to take action, and to ensure workplaces become part of the solution to domestic violence.

“On December 6th, we must remember that violence against women affects us all, and in every aspect of our lives – including our workplaces,” Vipond said. “Domestic violence affects the immediate victims, as well as their children, their extended families, their friends, their co-workers.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour’s governing body has passed motions calling on the Government of Alberta to follow the Government of Ontario’s lead and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Code to include policies targeted at helping victims of domestic violence for whom the abuse follows them to work.

Who:
Siobhan Vipond, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)

When:
10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m., Saturday, December 6, 2014

Where:
University of Alberta Faculty Club – Saskatchewan Room (11435 Saskatchewan Drive)

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Western labour leaders promise “unprecedented battle” if BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan water down workplace safety rules

Edmonton –The top labour movement leaders in Canada’s three westernmost provinces are putting the governments of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan on notice: if they are planning to engage in a race-to-the-bottom on workplace health and safety rules, they should be prepared for an unprecedented political battle.

The warning was issued by Gil McGowan and Larry Hubich, presidents of the Federations of Labour in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Lee Loftus, a ranking officer of the BC Federation of Labour and president of the BC Building Trades Council. The three leaders were in Edmonton today as provincial bureaucrats gather to begin the latest round of negotiations on a so-called New West Partnership.

Previous rounds of negotiation between the three provinces focused on harmonizing rules related to training, certification and apprenticeship. According to government documents, the new round of negotiations will deal with “health and safety regulations that act as impediments to trade.”

“Our message to the premiers of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan is clear and simple,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “If you’re going to engage in a race-to-the-bottom on workplace health and safety rules, you’re going to have an unprecedented fight on your hands. The labour movement is not going to sit idly by if rules designed to protect the health and safety of millions of workers are being watered down. We simply won’t let it happen.”

“The notion that occupational health and safety rules can be seen as impediments to trade is completely absurd,” Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich added. “These rules are about keeping workers safe and healthy. If businesses can’t operate profitably in that kind of environment, they shouldn’t be in business.”

“The only kind of harmonization we’ll consider when it comes to work place health and safety standards is harmonization upwards,” concluded Loftus from the BC Federation of Labour.

“Instead of engaging in a race-to-the-bottom, let’s have a race to the top. We simply won’t accept anything less. The health and safety of working people always has to take precedence over the whims of corporations, no matter how influential those corporations may be.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.9888 (cell)

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Government should reject desperate bid for cheap labour

CFIB admits TFWP a disaster for Canadian workers

Edmonton – The CFIB’s proposal for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) would allow the foxes to guard the henhouse. On Monday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) admitted that the TFWP is a mess, and proposed an “Introduction to Canada Visa” which would still leave immigration decisions in the hands of businesses.

“We should see today’s announcement from the CFIB for what it is: a desperate hail-Mary pass from a group of employers who have become addicted to cheap labour. And we should reject it,” AFL president Gil McGowan said.

The plan floated by the business lobby group includes changing the wages that TFWs would have to be paid, from the prevailing wage rate in a sector, to the wage rate in a business. This would mean a business could ignore market forces and pay significantly less than what is reasonable for a specific job.

“Employers can’t legitimately say there’s a labour shortage unless they’ve increased wages to attract Canadians. The evidence clearly shows that in sectors that make most aggressive use of the TFW program that hasn’t been happening,” McGowan said. “So let’s give the new rules introduced over the summer time to work. Now that it’s a little harder for employers, especially in the service sector, to access the TFW program, they’re going to have to start increasing wages. That’s the way labour markets are supposed to work.”

In interviews in support of their proposal, CFIB president Dan Kelly admitted that criticism of the TFWP was legitimate, and that employers have made excessive use of Temporary Foreign Workers to fill permanent jobs.

“It’s nice to see the CFIB finally admitting that the TFW program is a mess,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “It’s also nice to see them admitting that employers have been using the program to fill permanent jobs, not temporary ones. But they continue to ignore the central issue of wage suppression.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail orokne@afl.org

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