CALGARY — Fraud charges against a Calgary woman who headed a group for foreign workers have the Alberta Federation of Labour calling on the government to scrap the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
"There is a clear and obvious lack of oversight of the TFW program that can lead to appalling abuse of workers," AFL president Gil McGowan said Tuesday.
"The TFW program isn't working for foreign workers, it isn't working for Alberta workers and it isn't working for employers. It's time to admit the program is a failure and replace it with real immigration."
McGowan pointed out that Auditor-General Sheila Fraser panned the program in her 2009 report, saying there has been no systematic follow-up to ensure employers are complying with the terms under which the Labour Mobility Opinion application was approved, such as wages to be paid and accommodations to be provided.
Red Deer Advocate, Wed Jun 13 2012
"We hear story after story from temporary foreign workers who have been denied the wages that they were promised," said Gil McGowan with the AFL.
"Wages deducted from their cheques illegally, who have had their travel documents seized by brokers and employers."
Calgary police have charged Holman with five counts of fraud over $5,000, as well as five counts of theft over $5,000.
They say the situation a rare case but McGowan says its cases like these that show why Ottawa should scrap the program.
He acknowledges the need for foreign workers but suggests they should be implemented through a real immigration program.
"As opposed to this phony immigration program which basically treats workers as disposable post-it notes to be used and thrown away once we're done with them," McGowan said.
"That's not the Canadian way. It flies in the face of Canadian values."
McGowan warns Canada's reputation is at stake.
"This program is giving us an incredibly big black eye, one that I think we're not going to be able to recover from."
Police say through civil action, the victim has been able to get back ownership of her two properties and about $90,000 cash, but $300,000 is still unaccounted for.
The accused is out on bail with conditions, including not being able to make bank deposits, withdrawals or transfers from the TFWA's accounts.
Holman's next court appearance is in August.
Edmonton CTV, Tues Jun 12, 2012
Melissa Holman, 40, a pianist turned entrepreneur, has said on the website of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada that she was moved to help newcomers after a chance encounter with a nanny who dreamed of a better life in Canada. She later became head of an agency that places caregivers around the world and then founded the TFWA, a support organization for foreigners.
On the organization's website, Ms. Holman says immigrants are sometimes unwitting targets of those looking to profit from Canada's booming trade in international workers.
"Unfortunately, some lawyers, immigration consultants and agencies have the tendency to hold monetary power over immigrants," she wrote.
Calgary police said on Tuesday that the alleged victim, a 55-year-old woman from Japan who is in Canada on a student visa, was told she couldn't work in Canada and persuaded that she had to hand over the deeds to two homes and $410,000, otherwise she could be deported or her assets seized.
"Most immigrants don't come with this amount of wealth, but this wealth was accumulated through ... a lifetime of working and inheritance," Staff Sergeant Geoff Gawlinski said. "This person obviously felt threatened by what was told to her by the accused, and felt motivated to turn over all of her lifelong assets to stay in Canada."
Ms. Holman, who remains president of the association, cancelled a scheduled press conference on Tuesday and her lawyer did not return a request for comment. The allegations have not been proven in court.
Co-workers said Ms. Holman has helped thousands of people since the organization was founded two years ago and that the case is based on a misunderstanding or vendetta.
"She's an amazing person," said a colleague who asked not to be identified. "There are two sides to every story. Eventually it will come out."
Police and those who work with immigrants say the charges shine a light on the problems of trusting newcomers who are unfamiliar with Canadian laws. In this case, police said the alleged victim's assets had in fact never been in any danger of being seized.
The alleged victim in Calgary did not respond to a request for an interview, but police said she was referred to Ms. Holman's association to assist with a visa matter. Police contend that over a two-week period last summer, the alleged victim agreed to sign over two homes – one where she resided, the second an investment rental property – and provide banking information. By September, friends reported the situation to police.
After consultations with a special prosecutor, charges were laid last week. Police disclosed the case publicly on Tuesday.
Ms. Holman faces five counts of fraud over $5,000 and five counts of theft over $5,000.
She is expected to appear in court on Aug. 21. Investigators have recovered $90,000 and restored ownership of both residences to the alleged victim.
Brandon St. Jean, director of Immigrant Services Calgary, a registered charity with a 35-year track record, said newcomers who bring significant assets to Canada are the perfect "recipe for unscrupulous folks."
He urges new Canadians and temporary foreign workers to research organizations before they turn to them for advice.
"When things like this happen, it just creates so much distrust around the program and the system as a whole," Mr. St. Jean said. "It creates distrust on the end of new Canadians, but it also creates distrust on those of us who have been born and raised in Canada around the whole issue of immigration."
The Alberta Federation of Labour, which has long complained about abuse in the temporary foreign worker program, said the fraud charges demonstrate that the system should be scrapped.
Ottawa counted 300,000 temporary foreign workers across the country as of Dec. 1, 2011, and of those, more than 58,000 were in Alberta, making it the third most popular destination behind Ontario and British Columbia.
Globe and Mail, Tues Jun 12 2012
Byline: Dawn Walton
Lack of oversight will lead to more abuse of vulnerable workers, says AFL
News that the former head of a group that acts as a broker for temporary foreign workers has been charged with fraud valued at more than $2 million has led to renewed calls to scrap the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program.
"There is a clear and obvious lack of oversight of the TFW program that can lead to appalling abuse of workers," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
"The TFW program isn't working for foreign workers, it isn't working for Alberta workers and it isn't working for employers. It's time to admit the program is a failure and replace it with real immigration," he says.
Calgary police today revealed that the former head of the Temporary Foreign Workers Association of Canada has been charged with defrauding a newcomer to Canada.
Police said they believe the Calgary woman was president of the non-profit association when she allegedly defrauded a woman of more than $2 million in property and cash.
Melissa Holman, 40, faces five counts of fraud over $5,000 and five counts of theft over $5,000.
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser panned the TFW program in her 2009 report stating "there has been no systematic follow-up ... to verify that employers are complying with the terms and conditions under which the LMO (Labour Mobility Opinion) application was approved, such as wages to be paid and accommodations to be provided."
McGowan said this lack of oversight will get far worse with the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) process proposed by the Harper government.
"The federal government admits that fewer than 20 per cent of successful ALMOs will be subject to a compliance review. We can only imagine the widespread abuse workers will endure when bad employers know they have little chance of getting caught," says McGowan.
"These workers were vulnerable before and reports of abuse are widespread. It's only going to get worse. As working conditions for TFWs deteriorate, it makes conditions for all workers worse. It's the same with wages. The Tories will allow TFWs to be paid 15 per cent less than the prevailing regional wage, meaning there will be immediate pressure on Canadians to work for less or risk losing their jobs," he says.
For more information call: Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Changes will depress all workers' wages, union boss says
Accelerated approvals for temporary foreign workers and provisions that allow employers to pay them up to 15 per cent less than Albertans will depress wages for oilsands workers, says the province's labour federation.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, presented a torn-up paycheque to staff at federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office in Calgary Friday to protest changes he says will rip off an estimated 100,000 workers building and operating heavy oil facilities.
"Construction companies have convinced the Harper government that costs are out of control and that desperate measures are need," said McGowan, "but these changes will just make it tougher for ordinary people to get their fair share of the resource pie."
But the head of the association that represents non-union construction firms said the federal initiative is essential to shortening the nine-month wait his members currently face in getting approvals for foreign workers to fill vacant positions.
Steven Kushner, president of the Merit Contractors Association, said paying foreign workers less is fair given they often don't have the experience of Alberta tradesmen and because companies often spend over $10,000 in finder's fees and other expenses to get them into the country.
"We will still be looking to fill those jobs first with Canadians rather than undergoing the cost and delay of getting in a foreign worker," Kushner said.
Under the new rules for the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, employers of construction trades with a clean record can get approval to hire offshore within 10 days.
Where in the past foreign workers had to be paid the average wage for that occupation in the region, they can now be offered 15 per cent less, provided there are Canadians on the payroll who are working for the same rate.
Daniel Maher, an electrician and new father who has worked much of his 15-year career in the oilsands, is worried the new measures will lower wages and impact his ability to provide for his family.
"There's honestly a shortage of trades," said Maher, "but if they're going to bring people in, they should be paid the same."
Edmonton Journal, Sat Jun 9 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
Oil-sands workers to bear brunt of wage cuts, reveals AFL analysis of Temporary Foreign Worker Program changes
Calgary – Alberta workers presented a torn-up paycheque to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's Calgary office today to protest the way his Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program is ripping off working people.
"Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that allow employers to pay foreign workers 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage in the area are specifically designed to drive down wages for all workers – especially workers in the oil sands," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour which represents 145,000 workers. "We are presenting this torn paycheque to symbolize Kenney's rip-off of Albertans."
"The Conservative changes are a gift to employers, especially non-union construction companies operating in the oil sands, but it will hit Alberta families straight in the pocketbook and be reflected in their paycheques," says McGowan. To support his point, McGowan released a technical background document on temporary foreign workers today. The analysis shows the policy is explicitly aimed at taking down high-wage, high-skilled trades occupations in Alberta.
"Harper's new rules let non-union construction firms bring in temporary foreign workers by the thousands and pay them 15 per cent less than the going rate in the construction trades," says McGowan.
The AFL analysis shows the TFW program "is being used as a hammer to beat unionized construction workers out of oil-sands construction jobs," says McGowan.
"The Harper government is giving advantage to their friends in the non-union construction sector, such as Merit Contractors," says McGowan.
Oil-sands construction companies and low-wage lobby groups including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business have been pushing for an expanded TFW program to address a shortage of workers in select high-skilled occupations, alleging labour costs are what is driving overall oil-sands construction costs. McGowan also released figures today showing labour costs were not responsible for cost overruns on oil-sands construction projects.
McGowan adds that the wild-west pace of development in Alberta's oil sands is squarely to blame for any inflation, any labour shortages and cost overruns in the sector.
"The wild-west stampede to the oil sands is what is really to blame here. The Harper government – and its right-wing, anti-union, Tea-Party-style friends like Merit Contractors and the Canadian Federation of Business – would have us use Alberta's construction workers as scapegoats. But the real labour shortage culprit is a breakneck pace of oil-sands development," says McGowan.
"Pacing development, and putting Alberta families' interests before oil company profits, is the conversation Stephen Harper and his friends in the non-union construction sector don't want to have," concludes McGowan.
For more information call: Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)
CALGARY — Overreliance on temporary foreign workers to remedy Alberta's labour shortages will hurt both domestic and imported workforces, local labour and immigration organizations said.
The federal government introduced several changes to its temporary foreign worker program last month, including measures that would allow employers to pay wages up to 15 per cent below the average in their region. Demand for workers as industries in Alberta continue to expand should lead to higher wages, but the province's largest union organization said the federal government's moves will do the opposite.
"They're using workers as pawns to drive down wages and conditions at a time when wages and conditions should be going up in Alberta's hot labour market," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The program allows employers to pay temporary workers up to 15 per cent less for high-skill occupations and up to five per cent below average wages for low-skill jobs. The wages are determined using Statistics Canada data; low-skill workers can't be paid less than the local minimum wage.
Ottawa said the wage rules offer "flexibility" to employers and does not permit them to pay a foreign worker less than a Canadian doing the same job in the same region.
"Under the old wage structure, employers were required to pay temporary foreign workers at least the average wage for an occupation in a specific region, regardless of what they were paying their Canadian employees. In many cases, this resulted in employers paying temporary foreign workers more than Canadians," a spokesperson from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said in an e-mailed statement.
While McGowan has specific criticisms of the wage rules, his union's aim is to see the temporary foreign worker program abolished.
Rather than investing the time and expense of training apprentices, industries that rely heavily on tradespeople can bring in foreign workers instead, McGowan said, adding that short-term fix could lead to a long-term, structural shortage of skilled tradespeople if Canadian workers opt for other occupations because of a lack of jobs in industries employing temporary foreign labour.
"There's no doubt employers in places like Alberta are having a hard time finding the workers they need," he said, "but it's become the first choice (for employers), rather than the last resort. Policy-makers should be looking first at finding ways of opening doors for unemployed workers here in Canada."
In 2011, Citizenship and Immigration Canada recorded 190,769 temporary workers entering the country; 25,542 in Alberta. An annual measurement on Dec. 1 counted a total of 300,111 TFWs in Canada; 58,228 in Alberta.
Under the program, workers can stay for four years and aren't provided with an opportunity to settle in Canada when their term is over.
An advocate for new Canadians said a long-term strategy would yield better results for employers and be more fair to workers coming to Canada.
"They ignore the fact that some of these positions people are being hired for are permanent jobs, so why are they not addressing that through an immigration policy?" said Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.
Calgary Herald, Tues May 22 2012
Byline: Jason Van Rassel
New rules allowing employers to pay Temporary Foreign Workers less than Canadians will drive wages down and “pit workers against workers”
AFL joins national coalition of labour, religious and immigrant groups in condemning Harper government's new approach to TFWs
New rules allowing employers to fast track Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) and pay them less than Canadians will have far-reaching and profoundly negative effects on the Canadian labour market, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.
"With these changes, the federal government is allowing employers to use TFWs as pawns to drive down wages and conditions of work, even at a time when our hot economy here in Alberta suggests that they should be going up," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This is bad news for foreign workers because they'll get an even worse deal than they've already been getting. And it's horrible news for Canadians because it means that employers will start saying 'don't complain and don't demand more because if you do, we'll replace you with foreign workers.'"
McGowan's comments came in support of a joint statement made today in Ottawa by a number of national labour, religious and immigrant settlement organizations.
The statement, delivered by Hussan Yussuf, Secretary Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), says that allowing employers to pay TFWs as much as 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage rate paid to Canadians for similar work will pit Canadians against foreign workers and, in the process, create a "permanent underclass" of TFWs.
McGowan says that Canadians would probably be alarmed to learn that 30 per cent of all the jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011 were filled by TFWs – even as 1.4 million Canadians are looking for work and the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high in many regions of the country.
"Even before these new changes, the TFW program had become a first choice rather than a tool of last resort for far too many employers," says McGowan. "With fast-tracking and even lower wages for TFWs, the situation is just going to get worse, much worse."
Taken together with punitive new changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) system, McGowan says the Harper Conservatives are clearly trying to "discipline" Canadians and force them into accepting lower-wage jobs and jobs in locations far from their homes.
"The Harper crowd is using the mechanisms of the federal government to assist employers who want workers but are not willing to pay more or offer training to get them," says McGowan. "It's an appalling and illegitimate misuse of government power. Government is supposed to be by and for the people. But this is an example of government against the people."
McGowan reiterated the AFL's call for the TFW Program to be scrapped entirely.
"The TFW program is NOT immigration. It's an exploitative guest-worker program that flies in the face of Canadian values and traditions," says McGowan.
"If we need workers from abroad – and strong arguments can be made that we do – then we should bring them into the country as citizens or potential citizens. As citizens they would not be as vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as TFWs. And as citizens they would strengthen the labour market, not undermine it."
As a for arguments that the changes are needed to address labour shortages in the oil sands, McGowan says the solution is to set a more reasonable pace of development.
"When the government approves more than 60 major projects at once, no one should be surprised that some employers have a hard time finding the right workers at the right time. But the solution is not to open the floodgates for TFWs. That's just going to discourage companies from taking on apprentices and training the next generation of tradespeople. Instead, the real solution is to follow the advice of former Premier Peter Lougheed and simply set a more manageable pace for development. More should also be done to train unemployed Canadians to fill trades jobs."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)
Barely two months after a British Columbia Supreme Court judge certified a $10-million class-action lawsuit on behalf of more than 70 temporary foreign workers alleging flagrant violations of pay and working conditions, the Conservative government told Canadian employers that they can start paying short-term foreign workers 15 per cent less than they pay Canadian workers.
If the federal government felt any qualms about giving employers carte blanche to create a two-tier workforce, it wasn't obvious. Its attitude: Canada is facing a labour shortage. This is a way to fix it.
But groups that work with temporary foreign workers, especially workers at the low-skill end of the scale, fear that Canada has shifted from being a land that welcomes immigrants as equals to a nation that rents its workers from among the world's poor and sends them home when we're done with them.
Unlike immigrants, temporary foreign workers, especially low-skill workers, have no hope of permanent residency in Canada. They usually cannot bring family members with them. And they have less protection against workplace abuses than do Canadian workers. In February, Quebec's Human Rights Commission ruled that temporary foreign workers in the province are discriminated against: They are not covered by the labour-standards law or worker health and safety provisions.
The more than 70 workers in B.C.'s class-action suit allege that the owners of Denny's restaurants failed to pay them full weekly wages and overtime pay as contracted and also did not reimburse them promised travel, recruitment and processing fees.
For many employers facing worker shortages, the temporary foreign worker program is a godsend, especially now that they can pay the workers less. There's a fast turnaround in answering employer demands - as quickly as 10 days - and the employee has no choice but to stay with the employer who brought him or her into the country. If workers leave one job for another, they will generally be forced to leave the country.
Glen Hodgson, chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada, isn't opposed to the idea of temporary foreign workers being treated differently from Canadian workers.
"The temporary foreign worker program is a short-term fix," Hodgson said. "It does provide some instant relief, even though it isn't the structural solution we as a country with an aging workforce need."
Temporary foreign workers accounted for almost one in three new jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011, according to Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers, Canada's largest private-sector union. The number of temporary foreign workers reached more than 300,000 by 2011.
Three years ago, the Alberta Federation of Labour warned that the temporary foreign worker program was becoming a permanent part of Canada's labour market.
The temporary foreign-worker program was instituted in 1973 to allow employers to bring in, to meet short-term needs, scientists, academics and engineers whose skills were not available in Canada. But according to the Alberta labour federation, highly skilled foreign workers were laid off and sent home after the 2008 global economic meltdown, and employers instead began using the program to bring in low-skilled workers.
This shift has been tracked by researchers Delphine Nakache and Paula Kinoshita. In their 2010 paper published by the Institute for Research in Public Policy, they warned of possible consequences that could undermine the country's social fabric.
Low-skill workers come from the developing world, mainly Central and South America and Asia, and tend to be visible minorities and not speak English, they said, whereas the majority of highly skilled workers tend to be from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, are not visible minorities and are English-speaking.
The division between the two groups continues, the researchers said, with the skilled "welcome to settle permanently [while] the lower skilled are expected to leave when their work permits expire."
France and Germany have been down this road. Canada should be very leery of following them.
Victoria Times-Colonist, Sat May 12 2012
Byline: Janet Bagnall
Canadian companies that want to bring in highly skilled foreign workers temporarily will be able to do so faster and pay them less under new federal immigration rules aimed at addressing the country's persistent labour shortages.
In areas of the country that are booming economically – particularly Alberta – companies are complaining about the lack of skilled workers, a problem that Ottawa has identified as one of Canada's biggest policy challenges. Of 190,000 temporary foreign workers who entered Canada last year, 25,500 went to Alberta.? Businesses that use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows employers to bring in workers if they can prove they have advertised the jobs locally without success, say they are relieved that it will become less cumbersome, but critics worry the changes will lead to lower wages across the country.
Under the new rules, Ottawa promises to respond to employer requests for highly skilled workers within 10 days, instead of the 12 to 14 weeks it currently takes to get a Labour Market Opinion – a government approval that's one major step in bringing a worker into Canada.
Also, previous rules required foreign workers to receive the "average wage" paid to Canadian workers in the same region, but the new rules will allow employers to pay up to 15 per cent less than that average wage.? ?In an interview, Human Resources Minster Diane Finley said Canada's skills shortages mean there will be more temporary foreign workers coming to Canada regardless of the latest changes.?
"[Wednesday]'s announcement is going to make the system more efficient, it's going to be more effective for the employers and it's going to add protection to temporary foreign workers who are brought in while still ensuring Canadians get first crack at the jobs," she said.? ?
While the new national rules will apply only to high-skilled jobs at first, the government says it could be expanded to include other occupations.? ?Ms. Finley made the announcement in the small, industrial town of Nisku, in central Alberta, which produces infrastructure for energy producers. Labour-starved Alberta relies on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as a key pillar of its fast-growing economy.
But although Alberta applauded the changes, the province is hoping for further changes to Canada's immigration laws, including an increase in how many people Alberta can nominate for permanent residency under the provincial nominee program – or no cap at all. Currently, it can put forward 5,000 people per year.
"We'd like to see the cap removed, but if we could get it up to 10,000 that would be very helpful," said Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, whose department includes the employment and immigration file.
"The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not the be-all and end-all. It is a way to get workers when we need them," Mr. Hancock said, but residency is preferred. "The permanence is an important factor. ... Ideally, you want somebody who will actually come to stay."
Alberta's provincial government has also complained that a four-year cap on how long a worker can stay short-changes Canadian companies, which help develop employees' skills (and, in some cases, fluency in English or French), then are forced to kick them out. Other countries are benefiting from Canada's training, the Alberta government has argued.? ?
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business's Alberta director, Richard Truscott, applauded the changes and said the TFW program is a "godsend" for some businesses. He added that more changes are needed to cut red tape and improve the overall immigration system.? "This is one first step in that direction, but there are many more steps to go," he said, noting the labour shortage is "going to get a lot worse before it gets better."
Immigration consultant Peter Veress, the president of Calgary-based Vermax Group, also praised the move, saying a 10-day turnaround would be a big improvement.? He said the jobs are typically ones that Canadians don't want. "I don't think we can fix the [labour shortage] problem domestically," he said.
?But Nancy Furlong, secretary treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says it is inappropriate for the federal government to bring in policies that will force Canadians across the country to compete for less pay.? ?Ms. Furlong said the change will make it less likely that Canadians across the country will move to areas like Alberta, where there are skills shortages, because employers will opt for the foreign workers who can be paid less.?
"They're trying to drive down salaries and wages and frankly I don't think that's the job of our government to take one side, that being business, and find them ways of making money off the backs of citizens of the country by allowing them to drive wages down. I just think that's just wrong, totally wrong."?
South Asia Mail, Mon May 7 2012