News of criminal charges being laid in relation to welders and machinists from Poland and Ukraine working in Alberta is more evidence of widespread violation of employment laws and the abuse of foreign workers, says the province's largest labour group.
"It has been clear for some time that the processes used to bring foreign workers to Alberta aren't working," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "Foreign workers are vulnerable because they fear deportation and are not always aware of their rights. The Alberta government must not stand idly by while workers are being abused, and while laws are being violated."
Charges laid by the RCMP today allege that foreign workers were told they faced fines of $25,000 and deportation if they breached their contracts, and that up to nine workers had to share three-bedroom apartments. They were allegedly told they could work legally after six months and bring their families to Canada.
The workers were also allegedly contracted out to several northern Alberta businesses which were charged a much higher hourly rate for the services of each foreign worker than was paid to the workers. It is alleged that the recruiters profited by more than $1,000,000 from April 2006 to September 2006 by sub-contracting the foreign workers to various companies.
Last year, the NDP revealed government documents that showed 74 per cent of Alberta businesses hiring temporary foreign workers that were subject to inspection had violated the labour code.
"The brokers who bring in foreign workers must be subject to far more monitoring and inspection by the Employment and Immigration ministry. There must also be a much greater willingness to prosecute brokers and employers who violate the province's labour code. Sadly, there are very few prosecutions because, it seems, this government lacks the will power to take action against violators," says McGowan.
"The TFW program in particular is rife with abuse. Workers are charged thousands of dollars in illegal fees, often live in homes owned by employers or agencies who charge outrageous rents, are told to work long hours while being denied fair rates of pay - but are afraid to complain because their employer can lay them off and have them deported."
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CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, is in Calgary and will be available for interviews until 3 p.m. He can be reached at780-218-9888.