Oilsands Project to Import Chinese Workers - May Breach Rules Regarding Foreign Workers

EDMONTON-Documents released by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) show that Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), the lead partner in the Horizon oil sands development, is planning to use temporary foreign workers from China for part of its project. CNRL is also pressuring the workers to join the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), a union at odds with the rest of the labour movement for its employer-friendly tactics.

CNRL is tendering its "tank farm" work, and there remain only two competitors - both Chinese contractors who intend to use primarily Chinese workers. Importing foreign workers for general construction work is normally not allowed under Canadian rules. CNRL is attempting to get around the prohibition by using a rarely used, specialized exclusion for "warranty work". In addition, CNRL, in minutes of a clarification meeting with one of the bidders, indicated "CNRL highly recommend HQCEC [the Chinese company] join the CLAC labour group."

"CNRL continues its efforts to intentionally undermine the wages and working conditions of workers in the oil sands," says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan. "Their attempt to bend rules to allow heavy use of temporary foreign workers from China, and then try to force them to join CLAC, is just the latest in their provocative moves."

McGowan notes that CNRL is the company behind the controversial decision by the Alberta government to invoke Division 8 - which excludes the project from most of the labour relations rules in construction and allows the company to work with only one union. CNRL set up the project with CLAC, widely seen as an employer-friendly union.

"There are Canadian workers available to do the work that CNRL wants done," says Paul Walzack, Executive Director of the Alberta Building Trades Council. "We can provide the workers CNRL needs, but CNRL has decided that they want to push down wages and working conditions on this project by taking advantage of Chinese workers."

"We fail to see the necessity of this move, other than an attempt to prevent workers from receiving their fair share, and their right to choose their own union," says Walzack.

"Suggesting to a contractor which union their workers should join is bordering on illegal," says McGowan. "Employers are supposed to stay neutral on workers� decision whether to join a union, or which union they join."

Both McGowan and Walzak are calling on the provincial and federal governments to prohibit CNRL from importing Chinese workers for this project. Both also suggest that there are enough unionized boilermakes and pipefitters to complete this job with Canadian workers.

"CNRL is demonstrating its blatant lack of regard for its workers, and for the province of Alberta. All in the name of greed." McGowan concludes.

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For more information contact:

Gil McGowan, AFL President     at 780.483-3021 or 780.915-4599 (cell)
Paul Walzack, ABTC Executive Director   at 780.421-9400 or 780.405-6147 (cell)

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