AFL joins national coalition of labour, religious and immigrant groups in condemning Harper government's new approach to TFWs
New rules allowing employers to fast track Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) and pay them less than Canadians will have far-reaching and profoundly negative effects on the Canadian labour market, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.
"With these changes, the federal government is allowing employers to use TFWs as pawns to drive down wages and conditions of work, even at a time when our hot economy here in Alberta suggests that they should be going up," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This is bad news for foreign workers because they'll get an even worse deal than they've already been getting. And it's horrible news for Canadians because it means that employers will start saying 'don't complain and don't demand more because if you do, we'll replace you with foreign workers.'"
McGowan's comments came in support of a joint statement made today in Ottawa by a number of national labour, religious and immigrant settlement organizations.
The statement, delivered by Hussan Yussuf, Secretary Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), says that allowing employers to pay TFWs as much as 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage rate paid to Canadians for similar work will pit Canadians against foreign workers and, in the process, create a "permanent underclass" of TFWs.
McGowan says that Canadians would probably be alarmed to learn that 30 per cent of all the jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011 were filled by TFWs – even as 1.4 million Canadians are looking for work and the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high in many regions of the country.
"Even before these new changes, the TFW program had become a first choice rather than a tool of last resort for far too many employers," says McGowan. "With fast-tracking and even lower wages for TFWs, the situation is just going to get worse, much worse."
Taken together with punitive new changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) system, McGowan says the Harper Conservatives are clearly trying to "discipline" Canadians and force them into accepting lower-wage jobs and jobs in locations far from their homes.
"The Harper crowd is using the mechanisms of the federal government to assist employers who want workers but are not willing to pay more or offer training to get them," says McGowan. "It's an appalling and illegitimate misuse of government power. Government is supposed to be by and for the people. But this is an example of government against the people."
McGowan reiterated the AFL's call for the TFW Program to be scrapped entirely.
"The TFW program is NOT immigration. It's an exploitative guest-worker program that flies in the face of Canadian values and traditions," says McGowan.
"If we need workers from abroad – and strong arguments can be made that we do – then we should bring them into the country as citizens or potential citizens. As citizens they would not be as vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as TFWs. And as citizens they would strengthen the labour market, not undermine it."
As a for arguments that the changes are needed to address labour shortages in the oil sands, McGowan says the solution is to set a more reasonable pace of development.
"When the government approves more than 60 major projects at once, no one should be surprised that some employers have a hard time finding the right workers at the right time. But the solution is not to open the floodgates for TFWs. That's just going to discourage companies from taking on apprentices and training the next generation of tradespeople. Instead, the real solution is to follow the advice of former Premier Peter Lougheed and simply set a more manageable pace for development. More should also be done to train unemployed Canadians to fill trades jobs."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)