Union leader challenges Monte

EDMONTON - Just because more and more employers are clamoring for access to easy-to-exploit temporary foreign workers doesn't mean the government should ignore the broader public interest and give them what they want.

That was the message of a strongly-worded letter sent today by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan to federal Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg.

McGowan was responding to a new pilot program announced this week aimed at making it even easier for employers in Alberta and B.C. to bring foreign temporary workers into the country.

In the letter, McGowan pointed out that the federal government already dramatically lowered the bar for employers in November 2006 when the introduced the now-notorious "Lists of Occupations Under Pressure" for Alberta and B.C.

Under those changes, any employer looking to fill jobs that appear on the list has essentially been able to skip over steps in the application process aimed at proving they have actually tried to find people locally.

"When I heard about the latest move to expand the program, the first question that sprang to mind was:  hasn't the government already given employers everything they asked for," says McGowan. "When exactly is enough enough?"

McGowan scoffed at promises made by Solberg that measures would be implemented "in the coming year" to introduce protections aimed at discouraging abuse and exploitation of temporary foreign workers.

"Shouldn't mechanisms for 'monitoring and compliance' be put in place before, not after, you open the door to thousands of new workers?" he asked.

McGowan agreed that a growing number of employers, especially in the restaurant and hospitality sector, are having a hard time finding people willing to work for the wages that they're used to paying.  But he argued that "government shouldn't be in the business of helping employers keep wages down."

"Basic economics tells us that the first response of employers to tightening labour markets should be to make their jobs more attractive and introduce labour-saving innovations," wrote McGowan.

"But instead of doing that, more and more employers are turning to your government for a quick fix - and you're bending over backwards to give it to them ... I would argue that your efforts ... distort the labour market, discourage innovation, act as a disincentive for businesses to invest in training and put a drag on wages for Canadians. I would also argue that your efforts represent an illegitimate use of the government's legislative power."

McGowan concluded by saying that the real solution to Canada's labour force challenges lie with education and meaningful immigration reform.

"I'm going to start calling the minister Monte 'Open the Floodgates' Solberg," said McGowan. "He's deliberately turning what was a trickle of temporary workers into a disturbing torrent. And he's doing that without a broad public debate and without any evidence that this approach is really in the long-term best interests of Canadians."

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For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.218-9888 (cell)

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