The federal government should not relax safeguards designed to protect Canadian workers
Edmonton — Immigration Minister John McCallum needs to understand that it isn’t ‘silly’ to ensure companies hire unemployed Canadians before turning to the exploitative Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
In an interview this week, the minister said that rules to protect Canadians from the effects of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program were ‘silly,’ and that the Liberal Government was planning to make it easier for companies to bring in foreign workers. He suggested that in many cases the government would no longer require companies to prove that they had tried to hire Canadians first.
“These are not ‘silly’ rules. They are important safeguards that exist to prevent companies from replacing Canadian workers with exploitable, precarious, badly paid workers from other countries,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “These safeguards are even more important right now, when there are so many qualified Canadian workers who are looking for jobs. We saw in the 2008 recession that if they’re allowed to, companies will turn to cheap exploitable foreign workers regardless of the unemployment rate.”
The parliamentary human resources committee completed a report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June, but the report has yet to be made public. During the committee’s hearings, they heard testimony primarily from business sources, refusing to hear from many labour groups, including the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“It’s clear that on this subject, the government has turned a deaf ear to the people speaking up for the rights of workers, and has turned a blind eye to the numerous examples of why these kinds of safeguards are needed,” McGowan said, noting that many of the most egregious examples of Temporary Foreign Worker Program abuse happened when employers didn’t need to prove that they were trying to hire Canadians.
Currently, companies planning to hire a Temporary Foreign Worker, must file a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which is supposed to show that they have tried to hire locally, can’t find local workers, and so hiring from overseas won’t have an impact on the local job market. Minister McCallum has suggested that they will waive the LMIA process for many employers.
“When they don’t have to even try to hire locally, companies will use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to make an end run around the labour market,” McGowan said. “Every time a Canadian government has relaxed these rules, it’s led to abuse. Every single time.”
These proposed changes come at a time where many workers are struggling to find jobs. In Alberta, the unemployment rate is 8.6 per cent — two percentage points higher than at this time last year. At the same time, there are far fewer job vacancies. Last year in Alberta, the job vacancy rate was 3.5 per cent. Today the vacancy rate is 1.9 per cent.
These numbers show that if employers are saying that they need the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to fill jobs, they aren’t looking hard enough.
"It's outrageous that the federal Liberals are contemplating weaker TFW rules at the same time that low oil prices have driven unemployment rates in Alberta up and job vacancy rates down,” McGowan said. “It was bad enough that the previous federal government let employers use the TFW program to displace Canadians and suppress wages, when jobs were more plentiful. It's completely unacceptable to give employers the green light to do the same thing during a recession. This is an extremely wrong-headed policy."
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail [email protected].