The provincial government's demand that Northern Gateway conduct full-scale unannounced marine emergency response drills is not practical, the pipeline company said in its final argument on Monday.
Northern Gateway lawyer Richard Neufeld told the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel that the number of people that need to be mobilized for a full-scale drill makes them difficult to co-ordinate logistically. He said it would be unfair to mobilize so many provincial and federal officials with no advance warning.
"[The full-scale drills are] beyond industry best practice," Neufeld said, noting that the company supports having unannounced drills for elements of its response plan.
B.C.'s chief legal strategist Geoff Plant said last week that the drills are necessary because at this point in time the province isn't sure if the plans the pipeline company has announced are feasible.
"The general concern all along has been that a lot of what has been put forward by Northern Gateway as evidence of their spill response capacity is more like plans than actual programs and some of the questions asked today is we actually wanted to test drive spill response plans to make sure they actually work," Plant said.
Twice during his final argument, Neufeld called on provincial officials to get together with the federal government and industry so the three groups can get on the same page regarding what's needed to make the marine response "world class."
Neufeld broke his nearly two-hour final argument into four themes: economic need for the pipeline; respect; the need for good science and balancing the public interest with regional effects.
He said the construction phase will generate 62,000 person years of employment and disputed claims by the Alberta Federation of Labour that those jobs were inconsequential in the long run.
"Those jobs will do more than provide a paycheque," Neufeld said. "It will provide income, enduring skills and more than that, hope."
In his section on respect, Neufeld said it was unfair that intervener groups had called Northern Gateway "dismissive, insulting and arrogant" during their final argument. Yet at the same time he consistently failed to identify Skeena-Bulkey Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen by name, referring to the pipeline opponent as "the politician who called in from Ottawa" on more than one occassion. Neufeld named all other interveners directly.
The good science category was taken up by rebuttals on the fate of diluted bitumen in water, the threat posed by geohazards along the proposed right of way and the effects of routine marine operations on wildlife.
"The Internet is full of publications not supported by science," Neufeld said.
In his final section, Neufeld took on the request made by some intervener groups that Northern Gateway use tougher pipe and apply multi-layer coatings to reduce the risk of a rupture.
Neufeld said the company is sticking to its plan to use category one pipe for most of the route and category two on certain areas where it's required. He didn't mention category three pipe at all.
Earlier Monday, Prince George engineer Chris Peter told the panel that Northern Gateway is saying one thing in its filing and saying something different to the media when Ray Doering, the company's manager of engineering, speculated to the Citizen last week that category three pipe is being considered.
"Would a trial lawyer be able to try his case in the press without making the same case in court?" Peter asked.
The three members of the panel, Hans Matthews, Kenneth Bateman and chairwoman Sheila Leggett concluded the hearings by offering their thanks to everyone who participated in the process.
"Everyone has worked to provide the panel with the best evidence possible and we thank you for that," Leggett said.
They will begin their deliberations shortly and provide recommendations to the federal cabinet by the end of the year.
The Prince George Citizen, Wednesday, June 27, 2013
Byline: Peter James
The Alberta Federation of Labour gave its final arguments against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline on Monday, begging the joint review panel to reject the project.
At a hearing in Terrace, B.C., AFL president Gil McGowan argued Gateway will hurt Canada's economy, creating few jobs locally and more jobs in Chinese refineries.
"The proponents of this project have compared the pipeline to the (Canadian Pacific Railway) and called it an important piece of Canadian infrastructure. But the Northern Gateway pipeline is a piece of Chinese infrastructure, not Canadian infrastructure," said McGowan.
"The ownership structure of the pipeline shows that the project will benefit China's state-owned oil companies, shipping good-paying oilsands jobs to Asia."
McGowan states the pipeline will create only 228 permanent jobs and 1,500 temporary construction jobs during a three year period. He also argues that the pipeline will drive up operating costs for Canadian refineries by more than $800 million.
The AFL is not opposed to selling oilsands product to lucrative Asian markets, says McGowan. Instead, McGowan favours refining bitumen in Alberta before selling it to foreign markets. The labour orgainization estimates that at least 26,000 Canadian jobs would be created if bitumen sold to China was refined in Alberta.
"If we want Cadillac prices for our resources, then we have to sell a Cadillac product," said McGowan.
"That means selling upgraded bitumen, called synthethic crude, rather than raw bitumen. Some country is going to capture the value and create the jobs. We think that country should be Canada, not China."
The AFL represents 160,000 Alberta workers, including 25,000 in energy and energy-related construction.
The Monday hearings were the final arguments to either supporting or denouncing the $6.5 billion pipeline that, if approved, will link the oilsands to the B.C. coast. From a port in Kitimat, bitumen will be loaded onto tankers heading to California and Asia, on the B.C. coast.
The largest hurdle is a coalition of aboriginal groups who argue they were poorly consulted by Enbridge, and that the pipeline will run through territory seen as culturally vital.
Enbridge and company supporters have spent approximately $500 million on environmental and engineering studies, as well as public and aboriginal consultations for the project. Enbridge also argues B.C.'s oil and gas industry could gain more than $18 billion in additional investments if the project is approved.
The joint review panel is expected to finish the hearings within two weeks and make a recommendation on the project's future to the federal government by Dec. 31.
TERRACE, B.C. — Enbridge Inc. shot back at critics of its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline Monday, arguing the project is making enormous and costly commitments to avoid accidents and that the biggest risk to the country is not approving it.
In its final words to a panel of regulators reviewing the project, Northern Gateway lawyer Richard Neufeld said Canada is vulnerable to its only market, the United States, deciding it no longer wants Canadian oil.
"You want to see an economic Black Swan for Canada?" Mr. Neufeld said in addressing fears the pipeline exposes the country to an unpredictable event of massive proportions.
"How about a decision from the U.S. that it will no longer need Canadian oil? ... The $30-billion in export price discounting ... would be a drop in the bucket. Canadians would be facing, we suggest, an economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportion."
After a massive review that reached out to communities along Northern Gateway's proposed right of way from Edmonton to the Northern West Coast, proponents and critics of the oil sands pipeline are presenting their closing oral arguments in this picturesque frontier town about an hour's drive from Kitimat, its endpoint.
In a packed banquet room in the town's main hotel, Mr. Neufeld dismissed the most common criticism of the project — that Enbridge hasn't provided enough information about its risks and the benefits for regulators to approve it.
Participants hold signs in Terrace, B.C., during an anti-pipeline protest, on Sunday June 16, 2013.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland
"Given the volume of information that comprises the hearing record, it's an argument that appears quite hollow to use," Mr. Neufeld said.
"No amount of additional ... information would persuade any member of the tar sands campaign to support a pipeline such as this. They are never going to say that enough information has been provided."
There were no demonstrations at the start of the hearings, although a rally in opposition to the pipeline was held on Sunday in a local park.
The three-member Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is expected to wrap up the hearings in two weeks and make a recommendation to the federal government by Dec. 31 on whether the project is in the public interest.
Mr. Neufeld said the project has presented a path forward to address many of the concerns raised during the review, from the potential of an oil spill on land or in the ocean, to engagement with First Nations, and urged the panel to approve it.
"Tradeoffs are a fact of life," he said. "That does not mean that any person or community or region must be marginalized.... all it means is that in determining public interest we need to seek the balance that respects local interests, plans that deliver benefits to local communities, while still ensure that the projects that are needed for this country will proceed. We suggest that this project respect that balance."
But Art Sterritt, representing the province's Coastal First Nations, said Enbridge has failed to show the benefits are greater than the costs and the risks and approval would lead to "nothing but conflict.
"Remember this," he warned panel chair Sheila Leggett.
"Despite the hundreds of millions and effort by the proponents, B.C. First Nations and all of the public of B.C. have rejected this project ... I have never witnessed a project that has garnered such opposition, never in the history of B.C. I don't envy the position that you are in."
Up next are the Alexander First Nation, the Alberta Federation of Labour, B.C. Nature and Nature Canada, and then the province of British Columbia. These are all expected to present Monday.
Ottawa Citizen, Monday, June 17, 2013
Byline: Claudia Cattaneo, Financial Post
Supreme Court says Irving pulp mill's random testing policy has 'severe' impact on privacy
The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned a company's right to impose mandatory, random alcohol testing on its unionized workers in a dangerous workplace.
In a 6-3 decision released on Friday, the court ruled the policy unilaterally adopted by Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. in Saint John in 2006 for employees in safety sensitive positions is unreasonable.
The Supreme Court of Canada says random alcohol testing by an employer is only justified in certain circumstances.
A dangerous workplace is not automatic justification for random testing, the court ruled in the case, which dealt narrowly with unionized workers and management's ability to balance privacy rights with the need for safety in dangerous workplaces.
The decision says dangerousness of a workplace only justifies testing particular employees in certain circumstances:
- Where there are reasonable grounds to believe an employee was impaired while on duty.
- Where an employee was directly involved in a workplace accident or significant incident.
- Where the employee returns to work after treatment for substance abuse.
"It has never, to my knowledge, been held to justify random testing, even in the case of 'highly safety sensitive' or 'inherently dangerous' workplaces like railways (Canadian National) and chemical plants (DuPont Canada Inc. and C.E.P., Loc. 28-0 (Re)(2002), 105 L.A.C. (4th) 399), or even in workplaces that pose a risk of explosion (ADM Agri-Industries), in the absence of a demonstrated problem with alcohol use in that workplace."
The case stems from a 2006 grievance filed by Local 30 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), at the Irving mill.
"We respect the decision," Irving spokeswoman Mary Keith said in a brief emailed statement.
"We will be reviewing the decision and have no further comment at this time," she said.
"Our focus has and continues to be the safety of our co-workers and communities where we have operations."
Could affect Alberta Suncor caseDavid Coles, the national president of CEP, said the ruling is "very clear" and believes it will help resolve a similar dispute in Alberta.
Suncor Energy is trying to bring in a random drug and alcohol testing program for employees and contractors at its oilsands operations in Fort McMurray.
"As clear as it is written... if someone was to have random drug testing, they would have a fairly high bar to cross before they would be able to, I believe, get it past the judiciary because there just isn't any evidence at all that it affects the outcome at work," said Coles.
"The fundamental issue here is there's absolutely no evidence presented here or anywhere else that random drug testing increases the safety in any operation," he said.
"So it turns out to be nothing more than an invasion of ones' privacy with no net gain for the consequence of safety."
Coles said the union is opposed to anyone using any kind of alcohol or drug at work, but contends substance abuse is a societal issue that must be dealt with, not a workplace issue to be legislated.
"Stop spending so much money trying to beat on blue collar workers and get to the problem," he said. "You don't see random drug testing in downtown Toronto in the big white towers... And please don't tell me that the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse is any different in Fort McMurray than it is on Bay Street."
The Alberta Federation of Labour, which was an intervener in the Irving case, also believes the decision could influence the Suncor arbitration, said president Gil McGowan.
"Employers simply have to demonstrate there's a problem with drug abuse or alcohol abuse in the workplace before they can move ahead with these kind of arbitrary random drug testing regimes, but it's clear the employer didn't prove that and we would argue that they haven't been able to prove that in Suncor either. So we're very pleased with the decision."
The court found the Irving policy had been properly rejected by a labour arbitration board.
"In this case, the expected safety gains to the employer were found by the board to range from uncertain to minimal, while the impact on employee privacy was severe," the decision states.
Irving "exceeded the scope of its management rights under a collective agreement by imposing random alcohol testing in the absence of evidence of a workplace problem with alcohol use."
The court awarded "costs throughout" to CEP.
Daniel Leger, a lawyer representing the union, declined to discuss the amount involved, citing attorney-client privilege.
But he said the judgment will allow the union to recoup some of its legal costs in the seven-year dispute.
The decision from the top court could have broad implications. It is considered a national test case for how far an employer can go when it comes to a worker's right to privacy.
It attracted numerous interveners, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian National Railway Company, Via Rail Canada, the Canadian Mining Association, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), which describes itself as the largest industry and trade association.
Ian Howcroft, vice-president for the Ontario division of the CME, said it's "unfortunate" the Supreme Court did not uphold a company's right to do random testing.
But "it's encouraging the judgment did not close the door completely and companies may still be able to do some testing in certain circumstances," Howcroft said.
He maintains companies should have everything at their disposal to ensure the workplace is free of hazards.
Lawyer argues reasonable cause needed for testing
Irving Pulp and Paper Mill in Saint John had unilaterally adopted a policy of mandatory random alcohol testing for employees in safety-sensitive positions in 2006.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last December, but reserved its decision.
Fredericton-based lawyer David Mombourquette, who was representing the CEP, had argued a breathalyzer is an involuntary submission of bodily fluids and amounts to a high level of random personal intrusion.
Testing should only be permitted when there is reasonable cause, such as slurred speech or the smell of alcohol, he had said.
But the Irving company's lead counsel, Neil Finkelstein, had argued the policy is justified because the mill is full of hazardous chemicals, flammable substances, heavy rotating equipment, a 13,000-volt electrical system and a $350-million high-pressure boiler.
In addition, the mill had a history of drinking being a problem, he had said, citing eight documented incidents between 1991 and 2006, when the random testing policy was implemented.
In March of that year, millwright Perley Dey's name was randomly selected by a computer program to take a breathalyzer test.
Dey said he took the test because he was afraid of losing his job. The test showed a blood alcohol level of zero.
But Dey, who describes himself as a religious man who doesn't drink, said the test was humiliating and unfair.
An arbitration board allowed the grievance, ruling Irving had failed to establish a need for the policy. But a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge reversed that decision, which the union appealed.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the grievance in 2011, ruling the mill qualifies as an inherently dangerous workplace. The union appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
CBC News, Friday, June 14, 2013
Another week, another RCMP scandal.
On Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Caroline O'Farrell, one of the first women to join the force's storied equestrian show, the Musical Ride, launched an $8-million lawsuit claiming that the RCMP did not properly investigate her allegations of relentless, repeated abuse.
In what sounds like juvenile, cruel bullying and assault that is commonly committed by the dumb kids in junior high, O'Farrell was subjected to painful and humiliating hazing rituals.
Her statement of claim states that she was repeatedly soaked with cold water and then dragged by her arms and legs face down through the horse stall shavings, which included horse manure and urine.
Other than moving her out of the Musical Ride detail, nothing happened to those who assaulted her. O'Farrell has named the Attorney General of Canada and 13 RCMP officers, including senior officers whom she claims continue to work for the RCMP today in senior positions, in the lawsuit. They got promotions, she got shipped off.
It's important to note that most RCMP officers are honourable and dedicated, but there are simply too many dishonourable members.
These ostensibly endless scandals seem to fall into four main categories:
* botched, incompetent investigations that allow criminals to commit or continue their crimes for too long (such as serial killer Willie Pickton and the Air India bombers);
* incompetent investigations that wrongly accuse innocent people (such as the wild horse case near Sundre and the Canmore daycare case);
* the unwarranted brutality by RCMP members against unarmed civilians (such as Robert Dziekanski, who was Tasered to death in Vancouver, and Buddy Tavares, a compliant, helpless brain-injured Kelowna man who was kicked in the face by RCMP officer Geoff Mantler); and
* the sexual harassment of female RCMP members by their colleagues and supervisors.
Better training and better recruitment criteria could help fix the first two problems; harsher penalties, including criminal charges and real time behind bars, might help the third; but perhaps the easiest problem to fix is the fourth — the sexual harassment and bullying of female officers, and sometimes even male officers, by Neanderthal supervisors and bully colleagues. In short, the solution to the toxic harassment issue within the RCMP can be summed up in one word: union.
Not being a big fan of unions, this solution is not an easy one to advocate for. But a high-ranking Calgary Police Service officer mentioned the solution to me many months ago, and as each case of harassment was revealed and I applied the union solution to it, the more it seemed to make sense.
Currently, RCMP officers being harassed on the job have no one to turn to without risking their own career rise, since case after case shows that it was often the officer's direct supervisor or someone even higher up the ranks who was the problem.
Consider Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was the official spokesperson for the RCMP in B.C. during the Pickton investigation. She alleges that her bosses and superiors exposed themselves to her and extorted sex from her.
After Galliford, who suffers from post-traumatic stress, launched a lawsuit against the RCMP, a veritable flood of complaints and lawsuits followed.
O'Farrell is just one. More than 300 other former women RCMP officers are also suing the force in a class-action lawsuit. The lead plaintiff in that suit is Janet Merlo, who worked as an RCMP constable in Nanaimo, B.C., from 1991 to 2010. In her statement of claim, Merlo alleges she "was subject to persistent and ongoing gender-based discrimination and harassment by individual male members during the time she served as a constable."
For instance, the supervising corporal on Merlo's night shift watch commented to Wayne Merlo (who was then her boyfriend, but became her husband) "words to the effect 'Janet is perfect ... Janet is the right height because you can lay a six-pack of beer on her head while she gives you a blow job.'"
She had dildos placed in her work files and was berated for getting pregnant. Reached recently in Newfoundland, where she recently moved, Merlo says she believes a union would have solved many of her problems.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, not surprisingly, agrees that a union for the RCMP would solve many of the force's issues with regard to sexual assaults and harassment.
"A union would help civilize the workplace, and over time, would eliminate the problem," said McGowan.
"When people think of unions, they think first about the wages and benefits that we've been able to negotiate for our members, and certainly we're proud of those achievements, but one of the most important benefits that unions provide is access to a grievance procedure," said McGowan.
He points out that the union rep cannot be fired or reprimanded for taking on a complaint. As he notes, the most dysfunctional police service in the country is the RCMP, and it is the only one — as far as he knows — that does not have a union.
As the next RCMP harassment scandal is revealed, and the next, and the next, imagine what a codified grievance procedure would do. It would, over time, help rub off some of the layers of tarnish on the country's most iconic but discredited and scandalized police force.
Licia Corbella is a columnist and the editorial page editor. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Calgary Herald, Saturday, May 25, 2013
Editorial byline: Licia Corbella
Ever wonder how the world's oil tycoons feel about the royalty they are charged by the Alberta government? Movie theatre-goers can find out this month.
A 30-second commercial, which pokes fun at what Alberta charges oil companies in royalties, is running in theatres across the province this month - and while the ad is supposed to be cheeky and fun, it also carries a serious message, says the creator.
The ad features an older gentleman in an opulent office (complete with gold bars on his desk), being served an ice cream topped with gold sprinkles.
"Hello Albertans! I would like to thank you personally for making me so incredibly wealthy," he begins.
"Charging me next to nothing in taxes and royalties to dig your oil really helped out.
"And your province's government's underfunding of health care and education, so I could make even more millions," he adds.
The ad concludes with the tag line: "Alberta shouldn't be running out of money for essential services."
The commercial was produced for the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) by Better Way Alberta - a coalition that includes the AFL and Public interest Alberta - as a response to recent cuts in the provincial budget.
AFL President Gil McGowan told the Edmonton Journal the organization wants to create discussion about Alberta's low tax and royalty rates.
"What we were hoping to do with the ad, and the campaign that it's a part of, is to start a conversation with Albertans and public policy-makers about how we pay for our public services," he said.
"In a province as wealthy as Alberta, why the heck do we have a deficit in the first place?" McGowan asked in an interview with CBC Calgary.
The character in the ad has a Transylvanian accent. This choice was made partly to not "pick on anyone," McGowan told CBC, but also because the AFL feels "these oil companies — no matter where they're from — are sucking the blood out of the Alberta economy."
The $185,000 campaign, which was produced by Calgary-based Scott Communications and filmed at the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, will also feature three radio spots. They have not yet aired, but you can listen to them below.
OTTAWA — Changes to the ailing temporary foreign worker program unveiled Monday are little more than an admission of error and fall short of the massive overhaul the Conservative government promised, critics say.
The federal government announced it was dropping the confusing and seldom used 15-per-cent wage differential for foreign workers introduced in the last budget and temporarily suspending a controversial fast-track process brought in a year ago as a means of improving the program.
Effective immediately, employers will have to pay temporary foreign workers the prevailing regional wage average Canadian workers doing the same job earn because a plan to build in flexibility to account for experience and performance didn't work.
The Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process introduced last year to speed up the issuing of work permits was meant to better meet labour market demand in high-skill fields. Now, that too will be suspended pending a review of the program to make sure it's not being used to fill low-skill service jobs at, for example, Tim Hortons.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources parliamentary secretary Kellie Leitch made the announcement shortly after the government introduced its budget implementation bill.
"We are concerned about examples of the program not being used as intended. Canadians must always have the first crack at available jobs in our economy," Kenney said.
"The temporary foreign worker program was intended to fill acute labour shortages on a temporary basis only, not to displace Canadian workers."
A total of seven changes were introduced Monday. They include regulatory and administrative reforms as well as legislative changes contained in the budget that require the approval of Parliament.
Critics, however, argued the two key measures are simply a reversal of earlier mistakes.
"This is not the first time, as you know, that the Conservatives have said that they wanted to fix the program. Twice already they said that they were going to do that but then made things even worse," NDP human resources critic Chris Charlton said.
The NDP and other critics have complained the wage differential ultimately drove down wages and working conditions.
Charlton said the new measures don't address the need to recruit, hire and train Canadians first or the need for better labour-market information. There's also nothing in it to address unfair treatment and the rights of workers, she said, adding a comprehensive review is needed.
"The reality is, they have made an absolute mess of the temporary foreign worker program," she said.
"What we really need is a proper study with outside experts to make sure we get it right this time."
Liberal human resources critic Rodger Cuzner added the government may be "trying to sell this announcement as new reforms" but the truth is that it's simply promising to enforce rules that already exist.
Worse, it's "an embarrassing reversal" of changes the Harper government introduced in recent years, he said, adding he will introduce a motion asking a Commons committee to study the program.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, meanwhile, released a report Monday that found three out of four jobs created in the provinces over the last few years have been filled by temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians. When 8,600 jobs were lost in 2010, the province still admitted some 23,000 foreign workers, president Gil McGowan said.
He said the program is "not filling a need" but is "flooding the market," that it's become the "a first choice for employers rather than a last resort." McGowan added that the food-services industry has become a "low wage ghetto" in booming Alberta, where seniors looking to earn a little extra cash and teenagers looking for their first job are paying the price.
"It's clear at least in the province of Alberta that the program is being used to displace Canadians from employment, it's being used as a tool to suppress wages and it's giving employers and excuse to abdicate their responsibility to train the next generation of Canadians," he said, adding it's affecting construction trades as well as the service industry.
Among measures introduced Monday is a plan to boost the government's authority to suspend or revoke work permits and labour-market opinions, the latter of which pave the way for work permits to be issued where there is a genuine shortage of Canadian workers.
In the wake of a recent instance in which Royal Bank of Canada employees found themselves training temporary foreign workers to take over their jobs, the government said it will add new questions to employer applications to ensure the program isn't being used to outsource Canadian jobs.
The reforms are in addition to several already laid out in the 2013 budget.
Employers will also need to broaden the length and reach of job postings and produce a plan for transitioning to a Canadian workforce over time when applying for permits under the program.
New user fees for employers seeking to hire temporary foreign workers are also expected to offset costs currently absorbed by taxpayers.
The government is also taking steps to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations so that companies cannot make knowledge of a language other than French or English a requirement when hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.
"These changes will strengthen and improve the temporary foreign worker program to support our economic growth and recovery," Leitch said.
While agricultural employers could see permits revoked if companies are found to have misused the program, seasonal agricultural workers will otherwise be unaffected by the reforms.
An ongoing review of the program that began in fall 2011 will continue and more reforms are expected this fall, following a second round of consultations with businesses, trade organizations, unions and other stakeholders.
Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013
Byline: Tobi Cohen, PostMedia News
Two federal ministers yesterday jointly announced changes in the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including a "temporary suspension" of the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion program criticized by labour leaders.
But one high profile labour leader described the announced changes as "simply public relations."
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour told CBC news after the Ottawa announcements that "the Harper government has blinked, but it hasn't backed down."
McGowan and his federation hold a thick file of Accelerated Labour Market Opinions they gained by filing Freedom of Information requests to the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. They say it demonstrates deep flaws in the process that allows companies to hire foreign workers ahead of Canadians who might expect to be paid more or have more flexibility to resist poor working conditions.
The 93 page document lists 4,839 employers across Canada approved to use the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) initiative in getting government permission to bring temporary workers into Canada from offshore. Although the ALMO program was described, when it was launched last April as applying to "employers hiring temporary foreign workers in higher skilled positions such as: management, professional and technical occupations," union researchers who have examined the document say that more than half the employers cited (often in the fast food, restaurant, hospitality and farming sectors) seem unlikely to require many foreign professionals and experts.
B.C. had the highest rate of employers using the ALMO fast track rated as "questionable" by researchers, with 628, or 65 per cent of the employers listed seen as dubious.
Labour organizations in B.C. and Alberta want the Auditor General to investigate.
Progam is 'discredited': BCFED's Sinclair
Canada's procedures for bringing temporary foreign workers into the country have attracted public scrutiny and criticism for the limited rights they accord agricultural workers and for recent scandals involving Canadian workers at the Royal Bank of Canada being required to train foreign workers who will take their jobs and for corporate attempts to bring Chinese miners into the country to dig B.C. coal.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has been greatly expanded since the Conservatives took power in 2006, "is discredited, and has lost public support," president Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour told The Tyee. "Since they came to power the Conservatives have been turning on the tap. Before then there was a very modest program that brought in actors, musicians and medical professionals, but now all of the top five categories of foreign workers being brought in are low skilled.
Sinclair says the latest Freedom of Information "revelations about the ALMO initiative demonstrate why the program is broken. It needs to be scrapped or reformed to return it to its original intentions. What we have in Canada isn't a worker shortage. It's a wage shortage. We shouldn't be turning Canada into a cheap labour zone."
In an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star on April 16, Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti agrees. "Today," he writes, "companies are employing nearly 340,000 migrant workers -- more than our annual intake of permanent newcomers. Between 2007 and 2011, 30 per cent of all net new jobs in Canada went to migrant workers -- during a period of high unemployment in this country. This is a concern. If employers need migrant workers to do jobs year after year, then let's admit it is not a temporary situation."
In 2009, Georgetti notes, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that his department would publish online a list of employers found to be flouting the rules and they would be subject to sanctions. Four years later, he said, that "bad-boss" website doesn't contain a single name of a single company.
Kenney, along with Canada's minister of human resources, Diane Finley, made the announcement of program reforms yesterday (see sidebar).
'Lipstick on a pig'
But the Alberta Federation of Labour's McGowan told the CBC that that while a few of the announced changes marked small improvements, in balance the government was engaging in a public relations exercise, and in some instances, lying outright. McGowan said that when the ministers said that most temporary foreign workers were not being paid less than Canadian workers currently, the statement was "simply a lie." The program, even if the announced changes are fully implemented, will remain a "low wage program that exerts a structural downward pressure on wages," McGowan said.
"What the ministers did today," the visibly angry labour leader said, "was try to put lipstick on a pig."
Even Canada's top banker, Mark Carney, hardly a spokesperson for organized labour, has recently spoken out about the dangers of temporary foreign worker programs. The head of the Bank of Canada, soon to leave for a new posting in the UK, told a Parliamentary committee on April 23, according to the Globe and Mail, that the main purpose of the foreign worker program should be to help companies fill high-skill jobs for which there simply are too few Canadians who are adequately trained.
The program also should fill "temporary gaps" in the labour market, but avoid creating incentives for companies to avoid training Canadian workers, Carney said.
He added that the government must guard against abuse; otherwise, the effect will be to put downward pressure on wages, which in turn leaves companies with an excuse to avoid becoming more productive because they can keep up with demand by hiring cheap labour.
Fast food outlets prominent on 'accelerated' list
B.C. employers listed on the government document of ALMO users include McDonald's, Tim Horton's, Domino's Pizza, Burger King and smaller operations such as Solly's Bakery and Maurya Indian cuisine. Several of the employers appear to be blueberry farmers, despite the government statement when the initiative was launched that it would not apply to agricultural workers or workers in the film industry.
Several mining firms, including Goldcorp Inc., Teck Coal Ltd and the Western Coal Corporation are listed, as are the Big White Ski Resort and Sun Peaks. A few public bodies like health authorities and universities are also listed as ALMO employers, as well as Vancouver retail icons Lululemon and Mountain Equipment Co-op.Margaret Wheeler, senior vice president at Lululemon, told The Tyee that her firm employs 102 workers from offshore, of which 75 were hired through federal temporary foreign worker programs. Lululemon was not able to provide detail on how many of these 75 workers entered under the new ALMO option before this story was filed, but estimated about 50 of the workers were covered by the new fast track arrangement.
The Mountain Equipment Co-op, meanwhile, told The Tyee that it had only used the ALMO option once this year, to hire a U.S. design and merchandise planning expert. Tim Southam, who speaks for the co-op, emphasized that MEC does not hire front line retail staff through the temporary foreign worker program.
Tim Horton's 'strong track record'
Many of the other listed ALMO employers did not respond to Tyee requests for comment, but Alexandra Cygall, who speaks for Tim Horton's, did reply by email. She told The Tyee that:
"The Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion is offered to employers with a strong track record in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, such as Tim Horton's, in order for us to hire high-skill workers to fill positions of Supervisors and Managers. These individuals often have many years of industry experience and education within the restaurant and hospitality industries and are crucial to our business. Every Tim Horton's restaurant requires at least four supervisors and one manager to handle our 24/7 business.
Tim Horton's and our restaurant owners have been hiring Temporary Foreign Workers since 2005, mostly in areas where there is a shortage of labour such as the West. Our owners turn to the temporary foreign worker program after they have exhausted all other avenues to fill job vacancies locally. Without this employment program, many Tim Horton's restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all."
Cygal said she was unable to tell The Tyee how many foreign workers Tim Horton's had imported because individual restaurant franchise owners did their own hiring. Similarly, Barry Longhodge, speaking for Domino's Pizza, said that the parent company at Domino's had not done any ALMO hiring itself and was unaware of whether any franchise holders in BC had hired using the new fast track program.
John Gibson, who speaks for McDonalds, told The Tyee that nationally, his firm employs just over 2,000 "international recruits," who represent 2.5 per cent of the company's 80,000 Canadian employees. Most of these, he said, are sourced through temporary foreign worker programs, but he was unable to specify how many of the 2,000 were procured using the new accelerated option. In an April 26 email, Gibson told The Tyee that:
"Our priority is always to hire local employees in every one of our more than 1,400 restaurants nationwide, however, in recent years, tight labour conditions in some markets require that we recruit abroad to ensure we're able to continue to offer the level of service our customers have come to expect from us. This labour shortage is not unique to the food-service industry. We make every effort to hire locally before undertaking international recruiting. Just this past April, we held our third National Hiring Day -- which is a major component to our recruiting practices -- and hired over 5,700 new employees."
Audit ALMO say labour leaders
McGowan, the president of the Alberta labour central that commissioned the research into the ALMO initiative, is sceptical. In a press release, the labour leader says.
"You look down this list, and it's McDonalds, Tim Horton's, A&W, Subway Sandwiches. Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?"
McGowan is calling on the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, to conduct a complete audit of the ALMO process, a demand that the BC Federation of Labour Jim Sinclair told The Tyee that he supports.
CHANGES TO TFWP ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, April 29, Ministers Kenney and Finley announced changes in their government's embattled temporary foreign worker programs. The changes, they said, would:
- Effective immediately, require employers to pay temporary foreign workers at the prevailing wage by removing the existing wage flexibility;
- Effective immediately, temporarily suspend the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process;
- Increase the Government's authority to suspend and revoke work permits and Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) if the program is being misused;
- Add questions to employer LMO applications to ensure that the TFWP is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs;
- Ensure employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a firm plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce over time through the LMO process;
- Introduce fees for employers for the processing of LMOs and increase the fees for work permits so that the taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the costs;
- Identify English and French as the only languages that can be used as a job requirement.
The Tyee, Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013
Byline: Tom Sandborn
EDMONTON – The widespread wildcat strike that started last week with guards at Edmonton's Remand Centre and spread to facilities throughout the province took a dramatic turn Monday night.
After hearing hours of arguments from both sides, a Court of Queen's Bench justice found the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees in contempt of court for defying an earlier Alberta Labour Board ruling ordering its members back to work.
Justice J.D. Rooke fined the union $100,000, saying that rises to $250,000 if the strike isn't over by noon Tuesday. By Wednesday at noon, it will be $500,000 — and the union must pay half a million dollars for each day after that.
Meanwhile, the labour board also issued granted a cease and desist order to the province that ordered all union public sector workers who walked out in support of the guards to return to their jobs.
The government went to the courts after some provincial sheriffs, court clerks and social workers picketed outside courthouses in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and other communities in solidarity with jail guards, who were off the job at 10 correctional facilities.
The job action by sheriffs and staff forced the postponement of some family court cases and delayed some trials and other court proceedings.
The illegal walkout began Friday after two guards at the massive new $580-million Edmonton Remand Centre were suspended when they complained about safety at the facility, which started taking inmates for the first time earlier this month.
Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government won't deal with the union's safety concerns at the jail until the guards go back to work.
Lukaszuk blamed the dispute on a personal conflict between a union official at the jail and some of his supervisors.
"This illegal strike by AUPE, frankly, I have tell you, is irresponsible and it is causing Albertans a great deal of grief," he said.
"A great deal of this unrest is caused simply by someone not liking their boss. This is simply unacceptable."
The government estimates the strike is costing the government more than $1.5 million per day to pay for RCMP and other police to staff Alberta's jails.
Todd Ross, the chairman of the union local representing guards at the remand centre, said it is the safety conditions at the jail that are unacceptable.
Ross said 800 inmates were moved into the new jail over a two-day period from other remand centres, which was too many too fast.
He said glass in the facility is breakable, there aren't enough video monitoring cameras and not enough officers are issued with pepper spray.
"This is all about occupational health and safety concerns," said Ross, who has been a corrections officer for 28 years.
"It is a life and death situation. We need to get some meaningful talks going with this government."
The union didn't want to comment on Monday night's developments until they had been studied.
"We need to evaluate it (the directive) very carefully and consider our legal options," said AUPE president Guy Smith.
Earlier in the evening, there had been reports on Twitter that Lukaszuk and Smith had been spotted together talking over a drink.
Defence lawyer Deborah Hatch said the already burdened court system can't operate properly with the disruptions posed by the strike. She said the clerk who was to staff a trial she was to be involved in Monday was out on the picket line.
"It is absolutely not business as usual. There are jury trials that are supposed to start this morning. There are other types of trials in provincial court and Court of Queen's Bench. We don't have the people to function," said Hatch, former president of the Edmonton Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.
"Even one day of this will bring this system really to its knees."
Just days before the Edmonton Remand Centre opened, the union said it found five pages of design flaws after touring the facility. Union leaders asked the province to delay the transfer of prisoners from the old remand centre until changes were made.
The Alberta government said the facility was deemed safe by occupational health inspectors.
Lukaszuk said the union has presented a list of 10 demands that must be met before the guards will return to work, but he said health and safety is only one of the items on the list.
He said the union is in the middle of collective bargaining and he suggested it might be using the strike as a pressure tactic.
Smith said that isn't true.
"This has nothing to do with contract negotiations," Smith said. "This has everything to do with health and safety for the correctional police officers on the front lines."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called on Premier Alison Redford to get involved to help resolve the dispute.
McGowan said the union's safety concerns should have been dealt with properly by the government weeks or months ago.
He accused Lukaszuk of using bullying tactics instead of properly managing the situation.
"We need cooler heads to prevail, and that is not going to happen as long as a hot-head like Thomas Lukaszuk is involved in the process," McGowan said.
Government officials said Premier Alison Redford has been fully briefed on the illegal strike and the walkouts by other public sector union members, but will not be directly involved in the dispute.
Metro, Monday, Apr. 29, 2013
Byline: John Cotter, Canadian Press
Unions and migrant workers' advocacy groups warned Human Resources Minister Diane Finley of potential for abuse.
Last year the government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP)Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), indicating that it would fast-track the processing of employer applications for migrant workers and allow employers to pay them up to 15-per-cent less than prevailing wages. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) warned that those changes would make an already flawed program worse. I met with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley shortly after the announcement and provided her with a book of abuses that one of our affiliates had compiled. The CLC urged Finley not to implement the changes and to conduct a thorough review of the program.
Now the chickens have come home to roost. The events last week with the Royal Bank of Canada are not isolated. This follows on the heels of unions in British Columbia in court battling the government's decision to approve HD Mining's use of offshore coal miners after the company rejected the applications of hundreds of Canadian miners.
The Alberta Federation of Labour recently found that the federal government has granted thousands of fast-tracked work permits designed for employers seeking high-skilled migrant workers under the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO). The documents show many migrant workers brought in under the ALMO process are actually toiling in fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
We shouldn't be surprised, given the repeated warnings sounded by unions and migrant workers' advocacy groups. What is surprising is that Finley has not offered her resignation over the issue. She should do the right thing and resign over what has happened on her watch.
The Conservative government has been determined to alter the national workforce. The 2007 budget document said, "it is our government's intention to create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world." The TFWP has been the key to that flexibility. The same 2007 budget allowed Canada's employers to have access to temporary foreign workers "for any legally recognized occupation from any country," eliminating the previous limitation to occupations with recognized labour shortages.
Today, companies are employing nearly 340,000 migrant workers — more than our annual intake of permanent newcomers. Between 2007 and 2011, 30 per cent of all net new jobs in Canada went to migrant workers — during a period of high unemployment in this country. This is a concern. If employers need migrant workers to do jobs year after year, then let's admit it is not a temporary situation.
My grandfather came to Canada as a migrant worker. But there was nothing temporary about it. He was proud to become a Canadian citizen, as were so many of our parents and grandparents. Shouldn't we offer migrant workers a meaningful pathway to permanent residency and welcome their families?
Employers have been quick to take advantage of the loophole that Finley provided in April 2012. After announcing the up to 15-per-cent lower-wages scheme, she promised a new monitoring initiative to make sure the rules were being followed. Sadly, that initiative indicated that no more than 20 per cent of employer applications would be reviewed and only after employers had already received permission to hire migrant workers.
The government says that employers and labour brokers have to abide by the rules. Two of the criteria they must meet are: Has the employer attempted to hire or train available Canadians or permanent residents? Will the employer ensure the migrant worker will be paid substantially the same wage rate? There is ample evidence to show that these rules are being blatantly disregarded.
In 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that his department would publish online a list of employers found to be flouting the rules and they would be subject to sanctions. Four years later, that bad-boss website doesn't contain a single name of a single company.
Tripling the size of the migrant workforce in just 10 years, and allowing employers to pay migrant workers less, can only result in wages being driven down for everyone. It is unfair to both workers in Canada and to migrant workers.
The government must redress the ongoing problems with the TFWP. In 2009, the auditor general, after finding significant problems with the program, recommended a comprehensive review. Finally the prime minister has announced that a review will take place, but will it be transparent and meaningfully involve all stakeholders? Solutions do exist. For example, the CLC is calling on the government to establish a National Migrant Worker Commission. It must have real regulatory and enforcement powers to protect migrant workers' rights and ensure that our national labour force is fully utilized.
Ken Georgetti is president of the 3.3 million member Canadian Labour Congress.
The Star Commentary, Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013
Byline: Ken Georgetti, CLC