Labour federations call for freeze on temporary foreign workers program

The B.C. Federation of Labour has joined its counterpart in Alberta in a call for an immediate freeze on the country's accelerated process for temporary foreign workers applications.

"The fast track program should stop immediately," said Jim Sinclair, president of the BCFL. "The whole program should have a moratorium placed on it and there should be a real public review."

Sinclair was reacting to the publication of a list of more than 4,000 employers for which the federal government approved applications to bring temporary workers into Canada via an accelerated process. The document was obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour through an Access to Information request.

According to a Service Canada website, the program, called "Accelerated Labour Market Opinion," is a means for employers to hire "temporary foreign workers for high skilled occupations."

The list obtained by the AFL covers the initial eight months following the program's launch (April 25 to December 18, 2012). It includes hundreds of companies that are believed to have used the accelerated process to hire low-skilled labour. For example, convenience stores, gas stations, and a host of restaurants such as Tim Hortons, Taco Time, Subway, and A & W.

Sinclair argued that while the temporary foreign workers program was intended to only be used as a last resort, it's become the first choice for thousands of companies across the country.

"It is all about cheap labour and depressing the wages of Canadians," he said. "Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have little-to-no respect for people who work hard for a living."

Sinclair called attention to an April 2012 rules change by Canada's human resources minister, Diane Finley, which permits employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15 percent less than average wages.

"It's all about a government that sees its job as to make the rich richer and to make the middle class disappear," he added.

Sinclair stressed that the BCFL is not against immigration. "If it's necessary to bring people to Canada, they should come here as immigrants, with the same rights as everybody else," he said.

A representative for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada could not be reached by deadline. Kelly Leitch, parliamentary secretary for the minister of human resources, told CBC News that the government was looking into the matter. "We have some significant concerns about what's going on in the temporary foreign workers program," she said.

The 2013 federal budget states that the government is "taking action to reform Canada's temporary foreign workers program." The government plans to "Work with employers to ensure that temporary foreign workers are relied upon only when Canadians genuinely cannot fill those jobs," it reads.

It's estimated that there are 70,000 temporary foreign workers in British Columbia and over 300,000 across the country. Nationally, that's up from 101,000 in 2002., Wednesday, Apr 10, 2013
Byline: Travis Lupick 

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