Labour federation critical of new rules that speed up hiring of foreign oilsands workers

Changes will depress all workers' wages, union boss says

Accelerated approvals for temporary foreign workers and provisions that allow employers to pay them up to 15 per cent less than Albertans will depress wages for oilsands workers, says the province's labour federation.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, presented a torn-up paycheque to staff at federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office in Calgary Friday to protest changes he says will rip off an estimated 100,000 workers building and operating heavy oil facilities.

"Construction companies have convinced the Harper government that costs are out of control and that desperate measures are need," said McGowan, "but these changes will just make it tougher for ordinary people to get their fair share of the resource pie."

But the head of the association that represents non-union construction firms said the federal initiative is essential to shortening the nine-month wait his members currently face in getting approvals for foreign workers to fill vacant positions.

Steven Kushner, president of the Merit Contractors Association, said paying foreign workers less is fair given they often don't have the experience of Alberta tradesmen and because companies often spend over $10,000 in finder's fees and other expenses to get them into the country.

"We will still be looking to fill those jobs first with Canadians rather than undergoing the cost and delay of getting in a foreign worker," Kushner said.

Under the new rules for the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, employers of construction trades with a clean record can get approval to hire offshore within 10 days.

Where in the past foreign workers had to be paid the average wage for that occupation in the region, they can now be offered 15 per cent less, provided there are Canadians on the payroll who are working for the same rate.

Daniel Maher, an electrician and new father who has worked much of his 15-year career in the oilsands, is worried the new measures will lower wages and impact his ability to provide for his family.

"There's honestly a shortage of trades," said Maher, "but if they're going to bring people in, they should be paid the same."

Edmonton Journal, Sat Jun 9 2012
Byline: Matt McClure

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