Union leaders questioning the entry of foreign workers into Canada are potentially inciting public opinion against newcomers, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said yesterday.
The statements angered Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan who accused Ottawa of setting up foreign workers to be exploited.
Following a speech to a small audience at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Kenney said McGowan's criticism of the use of non-Canadian workers and the need for them "was playing on some old and really unfortunate sentiments.
"I wish this individual was a little more reasonable and restrained ... the union leadership needs to be a little more responsible."
AFL officials have argued the use of foreign workers undercuts and drives down wages.
Kenney said they're doing work Canadians are unwilling to perform and said his government, despite the recession and rising unemployment, will maintain its practise of encouraging immigration and foreign labour.
"We've actually made the politically difficult decision to maintain historically high levels of immigration ... the worst thing we could do is starve employers who are growing during these economically difficult times," said Kenney.
McGowan accused Kenney's ministry of "washing its hands" of temporary foreign workers once they arrive and who are routinely abused by their employers.
"We're the ones who set up an advocacy office to help workers who are exploited -- we're the ones picking up the pieces," said McGowan.
"I find it galling Kenney's trying to wrap himself in the cloak of virtue."
Kenney said his government is stepping up its monitoring of foreign workers' treatment while making it easier for the newcomers to become permanent residents and citizens.
But McGowan said of a rapidly-growing number of the workers, only 3% of them are eligible for permanent residency.
"It creates an underclass of workers," he said.
Edmonton Sun, Wed Apr 15 2009
Byline: Bill Kaufmann