Maple Leaf strike in Edmonton exposes buried election issue

EDMONTON - Today's news that Maple Leaf Foods is abusing temporary foreign workers at its poultry plant in Edmonton and attempting to use them as pawns to drive wages down is yet another demonstration of the failures of the temporary foreign worker program.

It's also an indictment of campaigning federal politicians who won't even acknowledge that a problem exists, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"The Temporary Foreign Worker program is run by the federal government - but not a single one of the federal leaders has made problems in the program an issue in this campaign," says Gil McGowan.

"Instead, the issue is being driven under ground, just like these workers. It's a dark and ugly corner of federal bureaucracy that deserves to have some light shed on it. I can't think of a better time to do that job than during an election campaign. Unfortunately, people like Prime Minister Stephen Harper don't seem to agree."

Earlier today, the union representing striking workers at the Maple Leaf poultry plant released information showing that many of the 98 temporary foreign workers in the plant were promised wages of $15 - only to receive much less when they actually started working.

The union also said the company was housing as many as 17 temporary workers in individual duplexes and that more TFWs were brought in as a strike was looming in an obvious (and illegal) effort to undermine the bargaining position of the union and the workers it represents.

"This strike highlights the dangers of the temporary foreign worker program," says McGowan. "Workers are brought in by companies like Maple Leaf to work in unacceptable conditions, at low wages, and these workers are frightened that if they complain, they will be deported."

Despite their precarious situation - and the fact that they are obviously being used as pawns to keep wages low - McGowan points out that over 80 of the TFWs at the plant are actively supporting the strike.

McGowan says that if precarious workers such as these can find the courage to stand up and speak up, then surely our federal leaders could do the same.

"We're in the final week of a federal election campaign and we need an open and public debate to address the failures of this program," says McGowan. "The political parties need to take a stand and tell voters how they will prevent the creation of a permanent underclass of guest workers in Alberta and Canada."

In a further effort to pressure the federal parties to start talking about Canada's TFW problems, the AFL has joined with its national counterpart, the Canadian Labour Congress, to recognize October 7 as the World Day for Decent Work (, which is being marked with activities across the globe.


For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)

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