The RBC scandal is the “tip of the iceberg,” a unionist says; taxpayers have a right to know who’s benefiting and where the real labour shortages are.
The RBC scandal is the "tip of the iceberg," a unionist says; taxpayers have a right to know who's benefiting and where the real labour shortages are.
Ottawa must make Canada's temporary foreign workers program more transparent and accountable by publicizing the names of employers who bring in migrant workers and the jobs they fill, critics say.
Canadian taxpayers have a right to know which employers are benefiting from the $35.5 million a year taxpayers pay to process their applications for a "labour market opinion," say major labour groups. Potential employers aren't charged a fee for this service, which is required to justify their claim that they need to bring in foreign workers to fill a need.
"Transparency is incredibly desirable for Canadians. This can act as a check against disingenuous Canadian employers," said Karl Flecker of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
"If the labour shortage is genuine, why would employers not want the data made public, so the government can take on job training strategies? By keeping it quiet, they are not helping our work force development."
The call came amid an ongoing investigation by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) into the use of foreign workers by oursourcing company iGate to replace 45 Canadian employees in information technology at the Royal Bank of Canada.
Flecker said the CLC has been trying in vain to obtain information from the government about participating employers since 2006. That was the year the temporary foreign worker program began to explode as it was opened up to "every legally recognized occupation" by the Conservative government.
"It's important that we know who is applying so we can identify if there is a genunine shortage," Flecker explained. "Both the federal government and the provinces are understaffed with their labour inspectors. (The unions) have the ability to assist them to meet with migrant workers about their health and safety and community integration."
Employers may argue their hiring practices are private commercial information. But University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin points out that government is accountable to the taxpayers who fund the program.
"All Canadians have an interest in this," Macklin said. "The real story here is not whether employers are behaving badly. They are basically responding, in a predictable way, to the incentive deliberately created by a government policy.
"When you make it easier and faster to bring in migrant workers and allow employers to pay them 5 to 15 per cent less, that's a predictable outcome."
Naveen Mehta, general counsel for United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, said his union has also been denied access to the employer information.
"We've been frustrated along the way (trying) to access the information. This will absolutely be a beneficial piece of a larger, transparent regime," said Mehta, whose group has been lobbying to get a migrant worker commission established to adjudicate on the employment of foreign temp workers.
Mehta said some Canadian employers set unattainable qualification requirements in their recruitment to justify turning to migrant workers. He gave as an example Vancouver-based HC Mining, which demanded Mandarin-speaking miners and got approval to bring in 201 workers from China.
Through an access to information request, the Alberta Federation of Labour recently obtained a long list of employers whose application for temporary foreign workers was fast-tracked and approved by the federal government under the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process.
The list, which does not include regular LMOs, includes 900 Ontario-based employers ranging from restaurants to retailers, universities, charitable groups, IT companies such as CGI Information Systems & Management Consultants, accounting firms such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers, financial institutions like the Bank of Canada and even tae kwan do academies.
AFL president Gil McGowan said many of these LMO applications have been "rubber-stamped."
He believes the scandals at RBC and HC Mining are just the tip of the iceberg.
"This isn't being used as a stop-gap, and it isn't a last resort for remployers," said McGowan, who is calling for an inquiry into the migrant worker program.
Both HRSDC and Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not respond to the Star's inquiry about employers who received favourable LMOs.
Related: The $1-billion-a-year company at the heart of the RBC temporary foreign worker controversyThe $1-billion-a-year company at the heart of the RBC temporary foreign worker controversy.
TheStar, Wednesday, Apr 10 2013
Byline: Nicholas Keung, Immigration reporter