2015 Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline
Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline
On the eve of the federal government’s April 1 deadline for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), Canadians should feel sympathy for the thousands of people facing the prospect of being sent home … and they should feel anger and disgust towards the federal government for the ham-handed way they’ve handled this file.
It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual Temporary Foreign workers, because – quite simply – they’ve done nothing wrong.
They came to Canada in good faith. They worked hard. They dreamed about better lives for themselves and their families. They don’t deserve the lies, broken promises and outright exploitation that they’ve suffered at the hands of the Harper government and many unscrupulous employers and fly-by-night labour brokers.
However, while it is appropriate for us to feel sympathy for these workers, we cannot lose sight of what needs to be done. And what the federal government needs to do is shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) – or, at the very least, scale it back to what it was before they made the decision to expand it a decade ago.
We take this position because Canada doesn’t need an exploitative guest worker program. What we need is real immigration. We also need better training – both in our schools and from employers – so that Canadians can benefit from the opportunities offered in our national and regional labour markets.
The Harper government’s dramatically expanded Temporary Foreign Worker Program was never a good fit for our country. It was never a good fit because Canada is a country built by immigration – and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not immigration; it’s exploitation.
The Temporary Foreign Worker program flies in the face of Canadian values: values like fairness, tolerance and inclusion. It also represents a dramatic break from our traditional approach to bringing people into our country from abroad.
For generations, we embraced an immigration model that welcomed newcomers as citizens. It’s a model that served us well. But now, as a result of the Harper government’s approach – an approach which, I might add, was never brought to Parliament for approval – we’re now bringing more people into the country each year as precarious guest workers than as permanent residents and citizens.
The reality for the vast majority of the 350,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada – and the 85,000 TFWs here in Alberta – is that, despite the promises made by politicians and many employment brokers, they will never become citizens. Instead, they’re status is more akin to the indentured servants or the so-called “coolies” of the 19th century.
The defining characteristic of TFWs in Canada today is their lack of full mobility rights. For most of them, they can only work for the employer that brought them. Even if they’re being cheated, mistreated or underpaid, in most cases they can’t do what Canadian workers can do – they can’t quit and apply for a job across the street.
This is exactly what many employers love about the Temporary Foreign Worker program. It has allowed them to ignore market signals about wages and impose working conditions that would never be tolerated by Canadians.
This is why so many employers love the program, but it is also why we at the Alberta Federation of Labour have so strongly opposed it.
We simply cannot tolerate the continued existence of a federal program that has facilitated the creation of a two-tiered labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of precarious workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.
That’s our bottom line: Canada needs to say “no” to a two-tiered labour market based on the exploitation of vulnerable guest workers.
In other parts of the world, guest worker programs have turned whole economic sectors into low-wage ghettos. It starts with jobs that are already low-status and low-pay, like child care and farm labour. But, if guest worker programs are allowed to flourish, the ghettoization creeps up the wage scale to areas like food service, retail sales, construction and even sectors like IT and health care.
When this happens, wages and job opportunities are suppressed and tensions between citizens and newcomers become enflamed.
This has already been happening here in Alberta. A wide range of experts – from the Parliamentary Budget Officer to the former governor of the Bank of Canada to former Employment Minister Jason Kenney himself – now agree that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was being used to suppress wages. Instead of being used as a last resort, the program was a first choice for many employers – especially in the low wage service sector.
This distorted the labour market and was clearly uncalled for in Alberta when oil was trading above $100 a barrel. It’s completely unacceptable now that the price of oil has collapsed and unemployment is on the rise.
However – and this is a big “however” – while we think the TFW program should be scrapped in its current form, we feel strongly that something needs to be done to help the thousands and thousands of TFWs who are already in the country. They are just as much victims of bad public policy as the Canadians who have been displaced by the program whose wages have been suppressed.
With this in mind, this morning I have made a formal proposal to the federal ministers of Employment and Immigration. We’re urging them to close off most TFW streams going forward and impose new limits and restriction on the so-called International Mobility Program which is allowing a growing number of foreign workers into the country without even the minimal oversight afforded to the mainline TFW program.
But we’re also asking them to let the TFWs who are already in Canada stay. Most importantly, we believe these workers should be granted permanent residency and eventually citizenship.
As permanent residents or citizens, these workers will have full mobility rights within the Canadian labour market, meaning it will be much more difficult for employers to use them as pawns to drive down wages and conditions on individual worksites or across sectors of the economy.
Closing off most streams of the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the TFWs already in Canada will accomplish three important things:
- It will put all participants in the Canadian labour market on equal footing. It is most certainly NOT in the broad interest of the Canadian public to have a labour market divided into two segments: one with full rights, including the right to mobility, and another with constrained rights, including limits on mobility. Closing off the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the workers already here, will re-establish balance and fairness in the Canadian labour market.
- It will go a long way towards correcting what is, essentially, an historic injustice. For generations, Canada has been a beacon for immigrants seeking to create a better life for themselves and their families. But, as I’ve said, the TFW program is not immigration, it is exploitation. By closing off the program and granting permanent residency to TFWs already in the country, we could re-establish our reputation as a nation that welcomes, instead of exploits, newcomers.
- It will encourage businesses and governments to focus on the REAL solutions to meeting the needs of the Canadian labour market: training, flexibility on compensation and conditions and REAL immigration. Instead of relying on cheap, vulnerable and exploitable workers, governments and businesses will have to do what they should have been doing all along, which is to nurture, develop and support our domestic labour force – which is a labour force that has always included new immigrants with full citizenship rights.
Will Pierre Poilievre and Chris Alexander do the right thing when their predecessors would not? Will they hear our plea that Canada should be a country of citizens, not serfs? Honestly, I don’t know. And based on the track record of this government, I’m not hopeful. But we need to ask and we need to lobby. If the Harper Conservatives continue to mishandle this file, then the only choice for Canadians will be to view the next federal election as an opportunity to put an end to this sorry chapter in Canadian history at the ballot box.
“Cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” move on TFWP breaks promise to Canadians by extending work permits and “fiddling” with caps
Edmonton – The Harper government has caved in to pressure from low-wage employers who want to hold on to exploitable temporary foreign workers for a longer period of time.
In a document sent to employers last week, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have already applied for permanent residency under the Alberta government’s provincial nominee program may be allowed to stay. There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency.
“This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is a deal that was cooked up behind closed doors with the federal government, the Alberta government and low-wage employers. It flies in the face of the promises that were made to Canadians.”
Kenney said in his letter that businesses will be allowed to exempt current low-wage guest workers from caps on the percentage of a workforce that can be made up of TFWs. Under reforms announced last June employers in Alberta were supposed to reduce the number of TFWs they have on staff to a maximum of 30 per cent of their workforces this year, 20 per cent next year, and 10 per cent the following year.
“Last June, the Harper Government promised to limit the number of TFWs that low-wage employers could use. But now, they’ve quietly broken their promise and changed the rules.” McGowan said.
McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly “cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.
“The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government’s Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education,” McGowan said.
“So this isn’t an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it’s all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year. To put it another way, they’re giving their friends in the low-wage service sector what they’ve been asking for and they’re giving TFWs false hope. They’ve framed their scheme in the convoluted way they have because they knew Canadians would be up in arms if they knew that this is really about letting low-wage employers hold on to TFWs for a longer period of time.”
The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.
“Canada is a country that has been built by immigration. But the TFWP is not immigration, it’s exploitation. That’s why we’ve called on the government to phase the program out. It’s also why we’ve called on them to grant citizenship to the TFWs who are already in the country. The reason these workers were distorting the labour market was because they were essentially serfs, not citizens,” McGowan said. “But now the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite on both counts. They’re letting employers keep their Temporary Foreign Workers for a longer period of time and they’re blocking paths to citizenship that could eliminate the underclass of exploitable guest workers that has been distorting the Canadian labour market. It’s shameful.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Internal FOIP Documents:
Supporting document to News Release Aug 15: Alberta companies given green light to underpay thousands of TFWs
Supporting document to News Release Aug 15: Alberta companies given green light to underpay thousands of TFWs
Evidence shows Harper government continues to allow TFW program to undermine Canadian wages
Edmonton – The wages of Canadians are continuing to be undermined by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
Internal government documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that Alberta companies were given the green light to underpay thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers in 2013.
The documents are the latest evidence that the misuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is deliberate, pervasive and not limited to a few sectors of the Canadian economy.
“These documents are a snapshot of what was happening while Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for the program, was telling the public he had taken steps to better monitor and enforce the rules around the program,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Behind closed doors, they knew the rules were being bent and broken, and they knew thousands of TFWs were being underpaid and used as pawns to drive down wages for all Albertans.”
In 2013, 3,718 individual positions were approved across Canada in the low-skill categories, under 535 Labour Market Opinions (LMO).
Of those permits, the vast majority — 2,122 of them — were issued to employers in Alberta under 294 Labour Market Opinions.
TFWs were brought in to be paid less than Canadians as truck drivers, shipping and receiving, service station attendants, as health care workers, nurse aides, front desk clerks, metal fabrication labourers, delivery drivers, woodworking machine operators, heavy equipment operators, machining tool operators, automotive mechanics, mine labourers, and concrete, clay, and stone forming operators.
“As you look at these documents, it’s pretty clear that the problems in the Temporary Foreign Worker program extend far beyond the food services industry,” McGowan said. “These documents show the TFW program is being used to keep wages low, and to pay people less than what is paid to Canadians.”
TFWP regulations give Minister Kenney’s department the power to deny work permits if wages offered a worker in the Program are below prevailing regional wages for that particular occupation.
“PC leadership candidates, Conservative Members of Parliament, even Justin Trudeau are whining about the changes to the TFW Program,” McGowan said. “Whenever you hear a politician fighting to expand the TFW program, you know that they’re working for low-wage lobbyists and insiders, not for the good of Albertans.”
The documents, which contain records from all Canadian provinces and territories, can be accessed here:
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
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
Earlier this week, news broke that RBC plans to hire 45 temporary foreign workers through iGate, an IT contractor, to fill positions of employees who say that, in fact, they're training their own replacements.
RBC denies this, saying that no one will lose their jobs and that the Canadian employees will be moved to other departments.
In Alberta alone, 4,000 companies have been given approval to hire temporary foreign workers. Canada-wide, there are 338,000 temporary foreign workers.
Postmedia News walks you through the controversy:
WHAT IS A TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKER?
Immigration Canada defines a temporary foreign worker as "workers (who) enter Canada to work temporarily in jobs that help Canadian employers address skill shortages."
Temporary foreign workers would, in principle, fill jobs such as carpenters, fruit pickers or managers in communication. These are areas that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) says are suffering skills shortages.
WHAT DID RBC DO THAT CAUSED CONTROVERSY?
The reason for the temporary foreign worker program is so that companies can go outside of Canada when there is a clear absence of Canadians to fill the positions.
In this case, critics say they were being brought in to replace positions that were already filled. The fact that several jobs will themselves eventually move offshore – outsourcing – further clouds the issue.
It is unclear whether or not any rules were broken. HRSDC has launched an official probe into the hiring.
WHY WOULD A COMPANY PREFER FOREIGN WORKERS?
Briefly, it's about wages. "You can actually pay these temporary foreign workers 15-per-cent less, you don't have to pay for a lot of the other benefits, and the employer has a power balance that gets even more skewed because the workers are so much more vulnerable than residents," argues Jinny Sims, the federal NDP's immigration critic.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR HAVING TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS?
Under the true guidelines of the program, temporary foreign workers are seen as an aid to the economy.
"If, for instance, you run a cherry orchard, apparently it's very difficult to get Canadians to come and pick the cherries in the orchard," said Michael Hart, professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. "You can hire temporary workers from Mexico to do that."
"The biggest reason to support it is if there are particular shortages, this is a quick and dirty way to address those needs," added Sharry Aiken, law professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "When there are very clear needs for the workers, there can be quite dramatic consequences if those jobs aren't filled."
William Watson, economics professor at McGill University in Montreal, said that "it's fair game for Canadian firms to play by the rules if that can cut their costs."
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST USING TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS?
Some wonder if these workers are really necessary. Aren't they taking up jobs that Canadians can do?
"You can argue, if you are, say, a member of a labour union, that the guy who needs cherry-pickers from Mexico, if he paid a higher wage then Canadians would be willing to pick cherries," said Hart.
"Necessity is an interesting moral question. Economically, at the price that you have to pay in order to sell your cherries, you can't afford to pay $20 an hour."
"Particularly in cases where these are not temporary labour shortages – these are permanent labour shortages – why are we using a temporary foreign worker program to address what is in fact a permanent or chronic labour shortage?" said Aiken.
"It's more equitable if the workers are brought in with the view of becoming permanent residents."
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
The Alberta Federation of Labour is starting an inquiry into how 4,000 companies in that province received permission to hire temporary foreign workers. That's in addition to the HRSDC probe.
Changes will probably come to the temporary foreign workers program, but it won't go away.
The Vancouver Sun,Wednesday, Apr 10 2013
Byline: Karl Kofmel
EDMONTON -- A labour group is calling for a review of a federal program designed to help employers quickly hire temporary foreign workers for high-skill jobs.
The Alberta Federation of Labour says since the program was announced last April, more than 2,400 permits have been approved to hire foreign workers for low-skill service industry positions.
Federation president Gil McGowan says access to information documents show the employers include fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
"You look down this list, and it's McDonald's, Tim Hortons, A&W, Subway," McGowan said Tuesday.
"Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?"
Some of the other businesses listed in the documents include The Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour in Alberta, Burger King in British Columbia and Pizza Express in Ontario.
McGowan said the permits are being used to replace Canadian workers and drive down wages.
He has sent a letter, along with the documents, to federal auditor general Michael Ferguson. It asks for an audit of the government's approval process.
Alyson Queen, director of communications for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said in an email that the department is "very concerned."
"Officials are investigating and will look into any evidence that the program is being misused," she said.
"The program exists to address real and acute labour shortages in certain sectors and regions across the country on a temporary basis. It was never meant to replace Canadians with foreign workers."
Under the federal Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) program, employers can pay foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than Canadian workers. The program is designed to process permits to hire temporary foreign workers for high-skill jobs, including the skilled trades, within 10 business days.
"The percentage of ALMO approvals for businesses that largely employ low-skilled workers appears to be in direct contradiction to the stated parameters of the program," McGowan writes in the letter.
McGowan said just over half of the approvals by the department are for businesses in Alberta, including 33 A&W restaurants.
Information posted on the department's website says permits under ALMO have been approved for every jurisdiction in the country except for Prince Edward Island, the Yukon and Nunavut.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said many small- and medium-size employers need temporary foreign workers to fill jobs. The need is most pressing in Western Canada and in rural communities right across the country, he said.
"I take it as a positive that businesses of all skill levels are able to access this expedited process. Our members really need those expedited processes," Kelly said from Toronto.
"We are moving into large pockets of the country where it has gone beyond a skills shortage and has moved into a general labour shortage where there is no one available to take the jobs that are on offer by Canadian employers."
The CFIB says it represents more than 109,000 businesses across the country.
McGowan said if employers are having a tough time finding workers, they should pay higher wages or the federal government could increase immigration.
He suggested initiatives such as ALMO and the Temporary Foreign Worker program are not the answer.
"Workers who want to come to Canada should enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Canadian residents," he said.
"We shouldn't be paying them 15 per cent less than Canadians, and government shouldn't be whisking them in through an accelerated and duplicitous process."
CTV News, Tuesday, Apr. 09, 2013
John Cotter, The Canadian Press
The latest federal budget is "an insult to Canadians," says Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, who says the government's promise to promote Canadians over the Temporary Foreign Worker program will not encourage the private sector to hire more Canadians.
"It has become far too easy for companies, especially construction companies like in Fort McMurray, to choose foreign workers over the next generation of Canadian workers," says McGowan. "In its current form, it's way too easy for employers to fill positions with foreign workers as opposed to taking on apprentices."
Thursday's budget primarily shifts Ottawa's support behind trades programs to drive Canada's economy, encouraging the private sector to play a bigger role in recruiting workers and training unemployed workers for in-demand jobs.
The goal is to fill nearly 220,000 job vacancies across Canada by reaching out to the disabled, youth and aboriginals.
"Training Canadians for Canadian jobs is clearly the message we have," said Fort McMurray-Athabasca MP Brian Jean on Thursday. "You can see it's a growth economy budget."
However, a recent report from the AFL says companies are still turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
"It's clear that the Harper government is sucking and blowing when it comes to foreign workers," says McGowan. "On one hand, they claim the budget is all about training Canadians to fill job vacancies. On the other hand, they are still going to promote the expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker program."
A record of 213,516 temporary workers came to Canada in 2012, up from 190,575 in 2011. In Alberta, McGowan says there are now more temporary workers than immigrants.
"There are enough Canadians to fill these jobs if employers and government gets serious about training the next generation of Canadians," he says. "Even with this budget, I'm not convinced they've gotten serious about that."
McGowan singled out the province's non-unionized construction industry as being one of the worst abusers of the program, because it's cheaper to bring in skilled workers than to train new apprentices. He also says these workers are paid, on average, 15% less than their Canadian counterparts.
As a result, non-unionized construction firms are able to outbid unionized firms for contracts with the money saved. McGowan says he would feel better about the program if employers who hired a certain number of Canadians, particularly apprentices, were the only ones getting access to foreign workers.
"Keep in mind that we are not against immigration. Canada was built on the backs of hard working immigrants," says McGowan. "This is not immigration. This is a program that uses foreign workers the way we use post-it notes, something we just throw away when we're done."
He also says the program is unfair to the workers, because many are under the impression they can become citizens once their work permits expire. Instead, most are forced to leave.
"I'd say 80% to 90% want to stay, bring their families over. But for most, especially the lower skilled workers, that won't happen," he says. "The ones working in the very low-skilled jobs, like behind the counter at McDonald's or Tim Hortons, they have no hope of ever becoming citizens."
Fort McMurray Today, Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
Byline: Vincent McDermott