Supreme Court says Irving pulp mill's random testing policy has 'severe' impact on privacy
The Supreme Court of Canada has overturned a company's right to impose mandatory, random alcohol testing on its unionized workers in a dangerous workplace.
In a 6-3 decision released on Friday, the court ruled the policy unilaterally adopted by Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. in Saint John in 2006 for employees in safety sensitive positions is unreasonable.
The Supreme Court of Canada says random alcohol testing by an employer is only justified in certain circumstances.
A dangerous workplace is not automatic justification for random testing, the court ruled in the case, which dealt narrowly with unionized workers and management's ability to balance privacy rights with the need for safety in dangerous workplaces.
The decision says dangerousness of a workplace only justifies testing particular employees in certain circumstances:
- Where there are reasonable grounds to believe an employee was impaired while on duty.
- Where an employee was directly involved in a workplace accident or significant incident.
- Where the employee returns to work after treatment for substance abuse.
"It has never, to my knowledge, been held to justify random testing, even in the case of 'highly safety sensitive' or 'inherently dangerous' workplaces like railways (Canadian National) and chemical plants (DuPont Canada Inc. and C.E.P., Loc. 28-0 (Re)(2002), 105 L.A.C. (4th) 399), or even in workplaces that pose a risk of explosion (ADM Agri-Industries), in the absence of a demonstrated problem with alcohol use in that workplace."
The case stems from a 2006 grievance filed by Local 30 of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), at the Irving mill.
"We respect the decision," Irving spokeswoman Mary Keith said in a brief emailed statement.
"We will be reviewing the decision and have no further comment at this time," she said.
"Our focus has and continues to be the safety of our co-workers and communities where we have operations."
Could affect Alberta Suncor caseDavid Coles, the national president of CEP, said the ruling is "very clear" and believes it will help resolve a similar dispute in Alberta.
Suncor Energy is trying to bring in a random drug and alcohol testing program for employees and contractors at its oilsands operations in Fort McMurray.
"As clear as it is written... if someone was to have random drug testing, they would have a fairly high bar to cross before they would be able to, I believe, get it past the judiciary because there just isn't any evidence at all that it affects the outcome at work," said Coles.
"The fundamental issue here is there's absolutely no evidence presented here or anywhere else that random drug testing increases the safety in any operation," he said.
"So it turns out to be nothing more than an invasion of ones' privacy with no net gain for the consequence of safety."
Coles said the union is opposed to anyone using any kind of alcohol or drug at work, but contends substance abuse is a societal issue that must be dealt with, not a workplace issue to be legislated.
"Stop spending so much money trying to beat on blue collar workers and get to the problem," he said. "You don't see random drug testing in downtown Toronto in the big white towers... And please don't tell me that the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse is any different in Fort McMurray than it is on Bay Street."
The Alberta Federation of Labour, which was an intervener in the Irving case, also believes the decision could influence the Suncor arbitration, said president Gil McGowan.
"Employers simply have to demonstrate there's a problem with drug abuse or alcohol abuse in the workplace before they can move ahead with these kind of arbitrary random drug testing regimes, but it's clear the employer didn't prove that and we would argue that they haven't been able to prove that in Suncor either. So we're very pleased with the decision."
The court found the Irving policy had been properly rejected by a labour arbitration board.
"In this case, the expected safety gains to the employer were found by the board to range from uncertain to minimal, while the impact on employee privacy was severe," the decision states.
Irving "exceeded the scope of its management rights under a collective agreement by imposing random alcohol testing in the absence of evidence of a workplace problem with alcohol use."
The court awarded "costs throughout" to CEP.
Daniel Leger, a lawyer representing the union, declined to discuss the amount involved, citing attorney-client privilege.
But he said the judgment will allow the union to recoup some of its legal costs in the seven-year dispute.
The decision from the top court could have broad implications. It is considered a national test case for how far an employer can go when it comes to a worker's right to privacy.
It attracted numerous interveners, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian National Railway Company, Via Rail Canada, the Canadian Mining Association, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), which describes itself as the largest industry and trade association.
Ian Howcroft, vice-president for the Ontario division of the CME, said it's "unfortunate" the Supreme Court did not uphold a company's right to do random testing.
But "it's encouraging the judgment did not close the door completely and companies may still be able to do some testing in certain circumstances," Howcroft said.
He maintains companies should have everything at their disposal to ensure the workplace is free of hazards.
Lawyer argues reasonable cause needed for testing
Irving Pulp and Paper Mill in Saint John had unilaterally adopted a policy of mandatory random alcohol testing for employees in safety-sensitive positions in 2006.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last December, but reserved its decision.
Fredericton-based lawyer David Mombourquette, who was representing the CEP, had argued a breathalyzer is an involuntary submission of bodily fluids and amounts to a high level of random personal intrusion.
Testing should only be permitted when there is reasonable cause, such as slurred speech or the smell of alcohol, he had said.
But the Irving company's lead counsel, Neil Finkelstein, had argued the policy is justified because the mill is full of hazardous chemicals, flammable substances, heavy rotating equipment, a 13,000-volt electrical system and a $350-million high-pressure boiler.
In addition, the mill had a history of drinking being a problem, he had said, citing eight documented incidents between 1991 and 2006, when the random testing policy was implemented.
In March of that year, millwright Perley Dey's name was randomly selected by a computer program to take a breathalyzer test.
Dey said he took the test because he was afraid of losing his job. The test showed a blood alcohol level of zero.
But Dey, who describes himself as a religious man who doesn't drink, said the test was humiliating and unfair.
An arbitration board allowed the grievance, ruling Irving had failed to establish a need for the policy. But a New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge reversed that decision, which the union appealed.
The New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed the grievance in 2011, ruling the mill qualifies as an inherently dangerous workplace. The union appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
CBC News, Friday, June 14, 2013
Albertan labour organizations and environmental groups declared their support for the Idle No More movement during a rally in Edmonton Monday.
In front of over 100 Idle No More demonstrators in Churchill Square, representatives from the Canadian Labour Congress, The Alberta Federation of Labour, Greenpeace Canada, The Alberta College of Social Workers, The Edmonton District Labour Council, and more, signed a declaration of solidarity with the movement.
The combined movement is being called Common Causes and aims to "defend democracy" by challenging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government's environmental legislation in omnibus Bill C-45.
"What you saw today is a number of key labour groups who are deeply concerned about their own members and their own ability to speak out on issues that matter to the average working person," said Common Causes spokesman Bill Moore-Kilgannon.
"But you also saw social workers, environmental groups, and recent immigrants coming here to say that all these things affect us as citizens and that's the debate we need to have in this country."
The Idle No More movement says Bill C-45 will further open access to resource exploitation on treaty lands, weaken local control over water, land and air, and erode aboriginal rights to protect their own culture and language.
Nancy Furlong, secretary treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour that acts on behalf of over 150,000 Albertans, said Bill C-45 is an attack on Canada's indigenous peoples as well as an attack on unions.
"(Harper) is destroying unions with bills specifically designed to silence the voices of the working people," said Furlong. "He does not share our values and he does not stand for fairness and we won't be idle any longer."
Greenpeace Canada said they were supporting the Idle No More movement to combat "Harper's atrocious omnibus bills."
"They are not only an attack on indigenous rights but on environmental laws and they are also an attack on the democratic rights of all Canadians," said Melina Laboucan-Massino with Greenpeace.
While agreeing there needs to be more public education about the movement, Moore-Kilgannon denied that the partnership between Common Causes and Idle No More will broaden the issues while simultaneously confusing the average Canadian.
"I don't see it diluting the issues at all, I see it strengthening them," he said. "The things that Idle No More is talking about: water, democracy, human rights, our relationship to each other... These are things that matter to everybody."
Moore-Kilgannon said Common Causes organizations will be involved with Idle No More in "various ways" but refused to say if they will join First Nations in blockading Alberta highways.
The rally was planned as a part of a national day of action in 25 Canadian cities to coincide with the resumption of parliament.
Edmonton Sun, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013
Byline: Matthew Dykstra
EDMONTON - The Idle No More movement marked a global day of action Monday with a rally in Churchill Square that saw leaders from a variety of organizations declare solidarity with the movement.
More than 200 people gathered in Churchill Square to hear representatives from nine organizations, including labour and environmental groups, share short messages of support for Idle No More and sign a declaration of solidarity. The speeches were followed by a tea dance with the Dene Tha' Drummers.
"There are exciting moments in history where people stand together, they band together and begin to resist. I believe that we're witnessing that today when we announce Common Causes, a national movement to bring together people of differing passions," said Nancy Furlong with the Alberta Federation of Labour.
On Monday, groups across Canada launched Common Causes, an assembly of social movements dedicated to defending democracy, social justice, the environment and human rights. Common Causes held rallies and marches in co-ordination with Idle No More's global day of action, which came as Canada's MPs returned to the House of Commons.
In Alberta, other Idle No More events included a march in St. Paul and a protest in Little Buffalo.
Garrett Tomlinson, communications co-ordinator with Lubicon Lake Nation, said about 50 people took part in a roadside protest on Highway 986, which began at 1 p.m. and was expected to last until dark.
In Edmonton, Morningstar Mercredi co-hosted the Churchill Square event with Public Interest Alberta's Bill Moore-Kilgannon.
"We will not stand by idly, we will not be silenced, we will unify and that is what you're witnessing today," Mercredi said.
Lori Sigurdson, on behalf of the Alberta College of Social Workers, declared solidarity with Idle No More and made reference to the controversial omnibus Bill C-45.
"We see first-hand the suffering of the aboriginal people and this bill that has gone through will only continue that," she said.
Representatives from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Friends of Medicare, the Sierra Club's prairie chapter and the Memoria Viva Society also signed the declaration.
Kayla Scanie, a member of Cold Lake First Nations, called Monday's rally "awesome." She hopes to see even more people support Idle No More at future events.
Nancy Dodsworth, with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, attended the event and said she has waited a long time for a movement such as Idle No More.
"Our environment has been destroyed for so long, so to have everyone come together and start to be really active is phenomenal. People are waking up and I'm grateful for that," she said.
Edmonton Journal, Monday, Jan 28 2013
Byline: Cailynn Klingbeil
Edmontonians packed Allendale Community Hall Sunday evening for a discussion of Idle No More, as communities and organizations worldwide planned for a show of solidarity with the movement on Monday.
"The goal here is to educate," said Richard Merry, chair of the Council of Canadians' Edmonton chapter. The group organized Sunday's event, titled Building Edmonton Solidarity with Idle No More.
The discussion was a chance for people of all backgrounds to learn more about the movement and how to participate.
"We hope to stimulate people to support the grievances of First Nations people much more directly, not just to watch it," Merry said.
More than 100 people gathered in the hall to hear Tanya Kappo, a member of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation who launched the Alberta version of Idle No More, speak about the movement.
Darian Selander, 24, attended the discussion with her brother, William Selander, 15, and friend Ellen Parsons, 24.
"It's a cause I want to know more about," said Selander, who has not been to any other Idle No More events.
"I've heard a lot of negative stuff about Idle No More, so I wanted to hear more about it from people who support it and are involved with it," Parsons said.
Mervin Grandbois, a member of the Cold Lake First Nation, was pleased to see so many people show an interest in learning about the movement.
"We need events like this to show that this is not only an aboriginal thing, it involves all people," Grandbois said.
The Edmonton event came as an assembly of 47 groups across Canada, including the Council of Canadians, prepared to launch a national effort Monday in support of Idle No More, timed to coincide with Parliament resuming in Ottawa.
United under the banner of Common Causes, the assembly's mandate includes defending democracy, social justice, the environment and human rights.
"We see the First Nations' struggles as a struggle of all Canadian people," Merry said.
Public Interest Alberta is one of the organizations joining Common Causes.
Executive director Bill Moore-Kilgannon helped put together an event at Churchill Square Monday that will feature speakers and a tea dance with the Dene Tha' Drummers.
"We are all deeply concerned about how we, as citizens, can make sure those voices that are concerned about the environment, health care, foreign policy, and human rights are being heard. Common Causes joining up and supporting Idle No More is really what (Monday) is all about," Moore-Kilgannon said.
While flash mobs and rallies have been used to protest Bill C-45 and C-38, Moore-Kilgannon said teach-ins are now helping people, many of whom are not First Nations, delve deeper into the issues the Idle No More movement addresses.
A teach-in session on Sunday afternoon connected the labour movement with Idle No More, attracting close to 100 people. Morningstar Mercredi, who has been active with Idle No More, was the main organizer of the event.
"We are all idle no more because of the bills, because of (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper's mandate, because of his inability to consult," said Mercredi.
Mercredi isn't surprised Idle No More is expanding to labour groups and other organizations.
"The bills will affect and have direct impact on every person, every single women, child, elder, man, everyone," she said.
Amanda Freistadt, a representative with the Canadian Labour Congress, attended the teach-in Sunday and plans to be at Churchill Square Monday.
"If we make connections with each other and we share commonalities and we build relationships with each other, we have the ability to influence progressive change in a way that we wouldn't if we didn't get together," Freistadt said.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, was also in attendance.
"We in the labour movement share the First Nation communities' concerns about this breakneck approach to development, because we don't think that it's in the long-term best interest of Canadians who own the resource, whether they're aboriginal or non-aboriginal," McGowan said.
"It's not just about First Nations, it's about all of us and all of our relations to each other and to our environment," Moore-Kilgannon said.
Edmonton Journal, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013
Byline: Carilynn Klingbeil
AFL urges comprehensive plan at event to commemorate 23rd anniversary of tragedy
Edmonton - Alberta needs to address pay gap for women, according to AFL president Gil McGowan.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, at the annual Alberta Federation of Labour Women’s Committee December 6 Commemorative Brunch, McGowan said that to tackle the problem of violence against women, we need to address economic disparity between the genders.
“Violence against women can be seen as a manifestation of inequality between women and men. The murder of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique was about power and control,” McGowan said. “Canadians need to understand that inequality still exists. Sometimes we like to think that women’s equality has been achieved, but that assumption is belied by the facts.”
The majority of workers earning minimum wage are women, and women in Canada earn just 72 per cent as much as men do. At the same time, 83 per cent of all police-reported domestic assaults are against women. On any given day in Canada, more than 3,000 women are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.
“Women who are at an economic disadvantage have fewer resources to get away from a bad situation. Decreased wages and diminished opportunities don’t just contribute to violence, they are themselves a form of economic violence against women,” McGowan said, noting that Alberta in particular is not doing enough to curb any of these problems.
“Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a Minister responsible for the status of women or an advisory council on the status of women. Unsurprisingly, we are the most unequal province in Canada on a number of very important indicators.”
McGowan noted that Alberta women working in a non-union workplace earn just 70 per cent as much as men in comparable positions, while women who belong to a union earn 89 per cent as much as men in comparable positions.
“Women do better when they are unionized. Narrowing the gap between men and women is one of the great accomplishments of our movement,” McGowan said. “But the trouble is so few people in Alberta have a union.”
McGowan also called on the federal government to introduce a comprehensive national action plan to end violence against women in Canada, and to launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
“While Aboriginal women make up only 3 per cent of Canada’s female population, they make up 10 per cent of all murdered women,” McGowan said. “It’s time that the federal government took this issue seriously, and launched an inquiry.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pipe trade students build sign to show collaboration between GBLT community and construction industry.
Pipe trade students at SAIT built something that's the first of its kind at the trade school – a sign to show the collaboration between people in the gay-lesbian-bisexual and transgender community and the construction industry.
Students have built two large portable displays at the request of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Keith Purdy is the co-chair of the AFL's pride and solidarity committee.
In 2005, he and his husband Rick were the first gay couple to marry legally in Calgary.
He said he's eager to help anyone else from the GLBT community to overcome workplace discrimination.
"Here will be a large timeline of the achievements of the gay and lesbian community throughout the years," Purdy said, describing the sign which is built in the shape of a small house.
Joe van Weenen, academic chair of pipe trades at SAIT, said it is a win-win situation for the union and the school.
"We like to present an atmosphere of inclusion," van Weenen said.
The structure will now be used in parades and festivals all throughout the province.CBC News Calgary, Fri May 18 2012
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning ordered a Mexican Consulate in Canada to conduct an anti-union campaign
Three former employees of the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver revealed before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (in Canada) that they had received specific orders from Mexican public service employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores or the SRE] and of the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social or the STPS] to conduct an ''anti-union, rejection and blacklisting'' campaign on compatriots registered in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), who, during their stay in that country, had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in order to demand that their labour rights be respected.
Before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, where the charges brought against the Mexican government were publicly laid, ex-employees Diego Prieto, Javier Valdez and Félix Martínez made testimonies in relation to Ángel Villalobos, a consul general in Canada. Vice-consul and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning official Estela García León and agricultural worker protection expert Guadalupe Palacios would ask them to produce a ''list of farms where it has been suspected that there are workers who are in contact with UFCW'' in order to put them on a ''blacklist'', which would then be sent to the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning, so that they would not be accepted in the SAWP again or that they would be sent to farms where there was no union.
Furthermore, according to testimonies – of which La Jornada has obtained a copy – made last February by the former employees of the Consulate before the BCLRB, Mexican workers would be warned ''not to contact anyone'' from UFCW and to speak only to Consulate staff.
UFCW lodged a complaint against the Mexican government and the owners of several Canadian farms – where, every year, Mexican citizens registered in the SAWP work – on the ground of an ''alliance'' to prevent farm workers from defending their labour rights and for committing acts such as ''unfounded rejection and barring from SAWP''.
The Union alleges that ''Mexico wrongly interferes with Mexican workers who support the Union by denying them permission to return to Canada or, in other cases, by refusing to send a worker back to a unionized place of work''.
The Mexican government has already requested before the BCLRB that the hearings concerning case 61973/, which was opened after several workers at Sidhu Farms had complained, be ''temporarily suspended''.
''Mexico will suffer irremediable harm if the Sidhu Farms hearings keep on going their current course'', the Mexican government argued after requesting, before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, on February 28th, that the BCLRB be obligated ''not to admit any evidence as to what Mexico has done'' and be forced to ''suspend the hearings''. In stating its arguments, Mexico accused UFCW of ''seeking to violate its immunity and leading the BCLRB to meddle in a foreign state's sovereign actions in relation to its own citizens''.
Below are reproductions of parts of the long testimonies that were made before the Canadian labour authorities last February.
''Excuse me, Mr. Valdez, you were telling us about orders that you received from Mrs. García, Mrs. Palacios and Mr. Villalobos.''
''All of them warned me that I would have to be shrewd and that I was not allowed to speak to anyone who would come to me on the union's behalf. Villalobos would jokingly press me to tell the workers not to contact the support centres because they might stop signing up for the program and that, if they needed anything, they had to contact the Consulate. They would also tell me that if the employers were annoyed because the workers would go to the union, they would stop requesting their help and the consuls and I would lose our jobs. Those warnings were constant, especially from Guadalupe Palacios.''
At another hearing Prieto revealed that ''every time a worker got in contact with the union, there would be a report sent to the Ministry of Labour (...) nothing would get done without someone's letting Estela (García) know about it, as she was the person asked for instructions, and she would say, 'All right, we have to write a comment on the blacklist' ''. This blacklist had the words follow-up on the cases written on it.
Migrant Farmworker Awareness Week,
March 26 - March 29, 2012
University Contact: Kerry Preibisch Community Contact:
University of Guelph Students Against Migrant Exploitation
Phone: 519.830.0040 Phone: 416.420.6992
E-mail:email@example.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ufcw.ca, Mon Mar 19 2012
Inequality among Alberta's non-unionized women at "shocking" levels – McGowan
Edmonton – Unions are the best cure for the unfair pay gap that exists between men and women working in Alberta, according to new figures released today by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) (click here for Backgrounder).
"Alberta has the highest levels of wage inequality in Canada, but unions provide the most equal workplaces for women in our province," says McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Today, on International Women's Day, it is disappointing to see the unfair treatment endured by Alberta women workers. However, it is clear that unions in Alberta are successfully leading the fight for equality."
The union advantage is particularly stark for young women, aged 15-24. Young women in Alberta, without union coverage, have seen their wages stalled at $12/hour since 2009. But unionized young women earn a median $17.84/hour.
Unionized women's wages are higher than non-union women in all age groups, says McGowan. The presence of a union means a smaller pay gap between women and men in all age categories.
The AFL also revealed Alberta's stunning pay gap. Alberta women working full-year, full-time earn only 68 per cent of the amount men earn. Canada-wide, women earn 79 per cent of what men earn. The recession did not change the pay gap for Alberta women, which remains at the level most other provinces were at in the 1970s.
"Alberta women face higher levels of income inequality because our province lags behind the rest of Canada – and most of the industrialized world – in policies that allow women to balance family obligations with the workplace, such as investments in child care," says McGowan. "Alberta has among the worst family leave policies in Canada and low employment standards compared to other jurisdictions."
Alberta is also the only province in Canada without some kind of voice in the Legislature for women. All other Canadian provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, have either a ministry responsible for the status of women, an advisory council on the status of women, or some combination of these institutions.
McGowan repeated the Alberta Federation of Labour's call for Premier Redford to establish a Minister for the Status of Women.
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Abuse of foreign workers must be stopped, says labour group: Alberta government action needed in light of new criminal charges, says AFL
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."
- 30 -
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.
A new federal policy forcing people who immigrate under the program to leave the country after four years, then wait four more years before they can reapply, comes into effect Friday. "It's rather counter-intuitive," Alberta Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk said.
If Alberta trains the workers, gives them experience to add to their resumes, then sends them packing, countries like Australia will be sending us thank-you cards, Lukaszuk said Thursday.
"We now know our labour shortages will not be sporadic. The temporary worker solution is fine for temporary shortages but we shouldn't be applying a temporary solution to what appears to be a permanent problem. What we really need in Canada is a foreign worker program with paths to permanent residency."
Duncan, who is running for the NDP, called a joint news conference Thursday with the Alberta Federation of Labour and Filipino worker Danilo De Leon.
De Leon works as a cashier at a Petro Canada. He would like to stay in Edmonton and sponsor his wife and two daughters but that's unlikely to happen.
Two years ago, Duncan's office was getting calls from small businesses closing their doors because they couldn't compete with the salaries being paid in Fort McMurray.
That stopped with the downturn, but now industry reports say a new labour shortage is already affecting the petroleum sector and will likely be more severe than that witnessed in 2007.
Premier Ed Stelmach recently warned that rig operators and staff in the transportation industry are already scare.
"The answer to this should not be let's just bring in temporary foreign workers with no equal rights," Duncan said. "We need a strategy for employment in this county, a strategy in this province."
"It's absolutely appalling that we have this four years and you're out rule."
Since 2007, Alberta has had more people enter the province annually through the temporary foreign worker program than through traditional immigration streams. About 60,000 temporary foreign workers currently live here and 28,610 more came in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available.
Alberta is allowed to sponsor 5,000 of those workers, giving them a chance at permanent residency, "but that doesn't even scratch the surface of what the requirement will be," Lukaszuk said.
If someone under the temporary program can't get sponsored from the province, they have to move outside the country before applying to re-enter as a permanent resident.
"We're going to be short 100,000 people in the next four to five years. If you have a cap of 5,000 people under that program, you are going to be continuously falling behind," said Ken Kobly, president of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.
"I agree with her," he said referring to Duncan, joking that his statement would likely give the NDP candidate a heart attack.
"We're coming out of this downturn a lot faster than expected. We need to look at growing our labour force with permanent immigrants," Kobly said.
"Temporary foreign workers should have a leg up on everybody else. They come into the county. They can stay for four years. If they prove themselves to be of good character and stay out of trouble, effectively they are serving a four-year probation period."
On the campaign trail, Duncan's opponent, Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman said the "temporary foreign worker program is working.
"What's clear is (Duncan) is using the election platform to give a boost to big labour and to try and make a partisan issue out of a foreign labour program that has been very successful," Hastman said.
"Business groups and employers have called for (the program) to continue, and I don't think now is the time for Duncan and big labour to attack our immigration policies and push hot buttons just because there is an election campaign."
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, who is running in Edmonton-Spruce Grove, said if there is a problem with the 5,000-person cap, it will be addressed through consultation with the province and employers.
Temporary workers "do have an option to apply to be a permanent resident," she said.
"But they do have to do that through the proper channel. This program was always meant to be a temporary program that's employer driven to deal with temporary shortages in the labour market."
Edmonton Journal, Fri Apr 1 2011
Byline: Elise Stolte