Conservatives accused of hypocrisy in dealing with immigrants: Policies prove they are no friends to new Canadians or foreign workers
"Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has made a very public attempt to court immigrant votes in the coming federal election," says Duncan, the NDP's candidate for Edmonton-Strathcona. "However, his actions speak louder than words. The truth is that Conservatives want to cut real immigration to Canada, while relying more on migrant labour to meet Canada's needs for workers."
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said a new rule in the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program that comes into effect April 1 is proof that the Conservatives want to prevent workers from settling in Canada.
"The ‘four-years-and-you're-out' rule will make it almost impossible for low-skilled temporary workers to even consider becoming citizens," says McGowan. The new regulation imposes a four-year cumulative limit on temporary foreign workers. This means that after they work a four-year term, they will be expelled from Canada and will have to wait four years before becoming eligible to again work here temporarily.
"The Conservatives say they are the party for immigrants, but reports last month showed the government was considering a 20-per-cent cut to immigration targets for skilled-worker category and a 25-per-cent cut to the family reunification category. In January, the government cut $53 million in funding for immigrant-settlement agencies. It's pure hypocrisy," says McGowan.
"Rather than welcome immigrants to Canada as permanent and contributing members to our communities, the government wants to rely on temporary migrant workers from overseas. These people work here, pay taxes here and contribute to our communities, but they have no hope of putting down roots and no hope of becoming citizens. We need to be clear on this - temporary foreign workers are not immigrants, they do not get to stay, they do not get to be with their families, they are condemned to second-class lives in the countries where they work," says Duncan.
The TFW program is rife with abuse, according to McGowan. 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.
"The Tories would rather have temporary workers solve the nation's labour problems, even though it will undoubtedly mean more workers being abused and will push wages down for all Canadian workers," says McGowan.
Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Both the Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association and Building Trades of Alberta face severe shortages of qualified professionals and skilled workers.
Gene Syvenky, CEO of Alberta Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, predicts his sector will be short tens of thousands of skilled employees in the next six to eight years. Immigration is probably the only way that will get remedied, he said.
Ron Harry, executive director Building Trades of Alberta, thinks the coming demographic shift will require an increase in numbers of certain age groups.
The federal government limits the number of people provinces can nominate for permanent residence. In 2011, Alberta is allowed to nominate 5,000 people. With limited numbers, Alberta's focus will be on nominating people who currently work in permanent jobs, those who have job offers, and those with the skills and qualifications in occupations that are in demand here.
"We need skilled workers living in Alberta permanently," said Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of employment and immigration. "We have to make sure we are ready for the coming labour shortages as economies around the world are competing for the same skills and the same people."
The change won't help low-skilled temporary foreign workers, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Alberta currently has 65,000 temporary foreign workers.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 15 2011
Byline: Hanneke Brooymans
Alberta government must do more to improve lives of women, says AFL: Province urged to appoint minister responsible for status of women
"Today, we are calling on the government to name a minister to be responsible for the Status of Women," says Nancy Furlong, secretary treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. "After a century, Alberta women are a long way off from equality. Women here earn on average only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns," she says.
"Clearly, Alberta's system does not work and needs to be fixed. Naming a minister to be responsible for the Status of Women is a simple step to ensure that Alberta women don't fall further behind. Having one minister take responsibility for this important issue will help to bring focus and may lead to improvements," says Furlong.
"Nationally, Canada used to be a world leader in addressing equality between men and women. But over the last 10 years we've gone from leader to laggard and now rank near the bottom of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in socio-economic equality alongside Turkey, South Korea, Mexico and the United States."
Within Canada, Alberta is the only jurisdiction that does not give women an institutional voice. Across the country, there are official advisory councils to government on the status of women, women's secretariats that form part of larger government ministries and, in select jurisdictions, entire ministerial portfolios dedicated to the status of women.
"Only in Alberta are women denied an official voice. We need to ensure women's rights aren't forgotten," says Furlong. "A Minister for the Status of Women would be able to analyze what happens in other jurisdictions to find which policies best contribute to women's equality."
For example, there is clear evidence that governments which invest in child care and early learning have a smaller pay gap between men and women. However, Alberta lags behind the rest of the country, with only 17 per cent of children having access to a regulated child-care space, compared with the national average of 20 per cent. In fact, Alberta is tied with PEI for the lowest spending per regulated child-care space in Canada.
"Alberta used to be at the forefront of the fight for equality, led by the Famous Five and their campaign to have women declared ‘persons' under the law. It is time for Alberta to take back that leadership role," says Furlong. "Alberta's women deserve better. We have waited 100 years since International Women's Day began. We must not be told to wait another 100 years."
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-720-8945
February 2011: Operation Hockey; Farm deaths spur calls to change work-safety laws; fight for REAL pension reform continues; Athabasca Univ Pension Course
- Union members, human-rights activists and members of the Lubicon Cree took to the ice at the newly opened hockey rink in Little Buffalo at the weekend. The rink was built by donations and volunteer labour in a campaign called Operation Hockey led by the AFL Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee. For YouTube video ... and for Edmonton Journal article by Christina Doktor ...
Farm deaths spur calls for minister to change work-safety laws
- The recent death of three more Alberta farm workers led to several calls for the Alberta Employment Minister to extend health and safety laws to include farms and ranches. Letters urging swift action were sent by the AFL, NDP MLA Rachel Notley, the Alberta Liberals and by Wayne Hanley, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada. For more information ...
The fight for REAL pension reform continues
- The AFL called on the Alberta government to reverse its opposition to increasing Canada Pension Plan benefits now that Ted Morton has resigned from cabinet, after a new poll showed Albertans are still in favour, by a two-to-one margin. Meanwhile, the Canadian Labour Congress filed an Access to Information request to find out who lobbied against proposals for improving CPP. For more information and for the CLC release ...
Learn how to protect your pensions
- Union members interested in pension issues have a new opportunity to learn about these issues and to prepare themselves for a role in pension governance. Athabasca University is offering a course that exposes students to the fundamentals of pensions. The course can be taken from home by anyone who wants to know more about how our retirement income system works. It is ideal for people who sit as union-appointed trustees on pension boards or are thinking of doing so, but will also be of interest to people new to pension issues. For more information ...
Register NOW for the EDLC School - You have until Friday, February 18, to register for the Edmonton and District Labour Council School, which takes place February 25-27. For details or to register or go to the EDLC website.
- February 17 - Parkland Institute Annual Fundraising Gala
- February 18 - Deadline 2011 Edmonton and District Labour Council School (www.edlc.ca)
- February 20 - UN World Day of Social Justice
- February 21 - Alberta Family Day
- February 25 - Deadline for nominations for 2011 AFL May Day Solidarity Award
- February 25-26 - 2011 AFL Equity Conference, Calgary
- February 25-27 - 2011 EDLC School (www.edlc.ca)
Did you know ...
- 1899: The Lubicon Cree are bypassed by Treaty 8 negotiators, so do not receive treaty benefits and a reserve has never been established.
- 1986: Inquiry Judge Davie Fulton files a report that supports the Lubicon. The Alberta government refuses to discuss his recommendations and he is fired by the federal government.
- 1990: The United Nations finds Canada in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights over its treatment of the Lubicon people.
- 2005: The United Nations urges Canadian government to resume negotiations with Lubicon.
- 2007: UN Rapporteur on Housing visits the Lubicon community and witnesses families without access to potable water and poor sanitation conditions, The Rapporteur called for a moratorium on oil and extraction activities until a settlement is reached.
Action on violence against women must include the workplace – AFL: Toolkit for workers and employers provides extensive support for better violence education
Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour marked December 6th with a call for employers, supervisors, workers, professional associations and unions to take joint action on domestic violence and its impact in the workplace.
"The basis for action should be the extensive toolkit developed by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and Alberta Council of Women's Shelters," says Nancy Furlong, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, representing 140,000 workers across the province.
The issue of domestic violence and its impact upon the workplace has come to light in recent years.
In a recent Alberta study, more than 20 per cent of respondents reported they had experienced the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. In an Ontario study, 38 per cent of nurses reported a history of domestic violence. Another U.S. study of Fortune 500 companies found 18 per cent of women employees had experienced domestic violence.
The Alberta Council of Women's Shelters and Health Sciences Association of Alberta developed a toolkit, Everyone's Business, as a result of a five-year partnership that saw them consult with businesses and labour leaders across the province.
The toolkit provides a guide for employers, pamphlets aimed at workers and supervisors, and information cards. The guide for employers provides protocols, draft team member functions, a model workplace policy and a sample safety checklist for the worksite.
The toolkit recognizes that domestic violence has a range of impacts on the workplace, from absenteeism and productivity losses to a domestic partner actually perpetrating violence against an employee at work.
Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety (OS&S) code (Part 27, section 390) requires employers to develop policy and procedures respecting potential workplace violence. Section 391 of the Code requires employers to provide instruction on recognizing, response and reporting of violence.
"It is unclear if the province actually enforces this section of the code and how many employers in Alberta actually take domestic violence and its effect on the workplace seriously," says Furlong.
"This is why Alberta's unions are exercising leadership on violence prevention in the workplace. On December 6th, we must remember that violence against women affects us all, and in every aspect of our lives - including our workplaces," concludes Furlong.
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour - 780-483-3021; cell 780-720-8945
A human rights expert is the keynote speaker at a workshop today, holding up Alberta's temporary foreign worker program as a failure.
Karl Flecker, director of anti-racism and human rights for the Canadian Labour Congress, will be speaking at event - The TFW Disaster: How the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is impacting Alberta's reputation - being staged by the Alberta Federation of Labour in Edmonton.
A number of temporary foreign workers are employed in the oilsands as well as in the local service and hospitality industry in Wood Buffalo.
"Canada's temporary foreign worker program is often touted as being a model program by Canadian government officials," said Flecker.
Truth is, he claims, the TFW program leads to exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous labour brokers and employers, countless experiences of workplace abuse, poor housing conditions and a systemic denial of benefits workers are entitled to receive but never see.
The AFL is hosting the workshop for two reasons, explained Gil McGowan, AFL president, this morning.
The time has come for labour and community groups to get together in order to craft a stronger message and start building a campaign in support of TFW reform and second, because the provincial government is in the process of re-evaluating the program. The AFL wants to take advantage of that re-evaluation "to put pressure on the provincial government to play a more positive role in fixing what we think is a broken system."
Teresa Woo-Paw, parliamentary secretary to Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's labour minister, who is heading the provincial review of the TFW program, has agreed to include whatever comes out of today's workshop in her review, he pointed out. Woo-Paw has been hosting meetings in different communities around the province, meeting with employers and community groups.
Though cold comfort, McGowan agreed it is something as the TFW program is a federal program so there is only so much the province can do.
"Just the fact that the provincial government is taking a second look at the temporary foreign worker program is encouraging for us because it demonstrates that we're not the only ones who are concerned that the program isn't working in the broader interest of Canadians."
About 65 people were attending the event with one-third from labour and the remainder representing immigrant settlement organizations, primarily non-profit groups such as the YMCA that work with immigrants and temporary foreign workers.
"They're the people on the front lines dealing with temporary foreign workers who have been cheated, misused or abused," said McGowan.
The AFL says the TFW program isn't working for employees or employers. It should be scrapped and replaced by a reformed immigration system that opens more paths to permanent residency and citizenship. The AFL estimates there are more than 65,000 documented foreign workers in the provinces, and tens of thousands more unregistered workers, creating a disposable workforce open to abuse.
Flecker said Canada's TFW program is not up for the job of ensuring basic human rights are upheld. "The program quite simply fails to ensure adequate workplace protections for those who toil in every single sector of the Canadian economy are in place," he said.
Fort McMurray Today, Thurs Nov 18 2010
Byline: Carol Christian
Would you believe that after the G8 meeting held near Calgary in 2002 the Council of Canadians' Maude Barlow complimented the city police on their approach to political activists who took to the streets?
Would you believe that Starhawk, an activist from San Francisco, said the police in Calgary behaved like no other security force she had seen in her round-the-world travels on the protest circuit? No sinister face-shields, no tear gas, water cannons or dogs.
Given what happened during the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto and other locales over the past few years, the Calgary experience now seems like a short but pleasant daydream. But it also shows what's possible when police and political activists try to respect each other's rights and responsibilities.
The G8 leaders gathered at a secluded mountain resort - Kananaskis Village - about 80 kilometres west of Calgary. They were fenced in by 1,000 soldiers and sharpshooters and a 150-kilometre no-fly zone patrolled by CF-18s. Jean Chrétien chose the location. And given that 9/11 had shocked the world less than a year before and that U.S. president George W. Bush would be in attendance it seemed like a brilliant solution to numerous security issues.
Activists with unions, social justice groups and student organizations realized early on that they were not going to get anywhere near the G8 leaders so they focused their attention on downtown Calgary. Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said they wanted to create a festival atmosphere so various causes could be brought to the attention of the general public without violence and rancour. Of course, not everyone believed this. Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier still treated them like terrorists in training.
The police, however, decided to take a softer approach to demonstrators. For months before the G8 meeting they met with representatives of various groups and listened to their complaints about police harassment. They also made it clear that they knew protesters had certain rights and they would respect them.
And indeed downtown Calgary did take on a festival atmosphere during the G8 meeting. People marched through the streets with costumes and provocative banners while families stood along the route as enthralled as if they were watching a parade. The police kept the peace on bicycles and could be seen joking with the protesters, even offering them bottles of water. Dozens of heavily armed riot police were close at hand but always out of sight.
The protesters - everyone from the Council of Canadians to the Anti-Capitalist Collective to the Canadian Auto Workers to the Pagan Cluster - were remarkably disciplined.
When a few masked agitators started rocking and climbing a fence around the Stampede complex where G8 leaders were having a cocktail party, protest leaders turned the crowd around. They effectively isolated the fence rockers who were quickly surrounded by police and sent on their way.
One morning, black-clad thugs began a shoving match against officers in a bike unit. After about 10 minutes, a heavily armed tactical team arrived on the scene and the guys in black simply ran away. Again no one was arrested.
It's true that there were far fewer demonstrators than in Toronto. And some activists were stopped at the border and never made it to Calgary. But it is also clear, even to seasoned activists, that an intelligent, respectful and well-disciplined police force made all the difference.
Toronto Star, Tues July 6 2010
Byline: Gillian Steward
Newly released figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that on Dec. 1, 2009, there were 69,000 foreign workers in the province, compared to only 35,000 in 2006.
Alberta's unemployment rate currently sits at 6.6%.
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, calls it a ``lose-lose situation.'' He says it's a bad deal for the foreigners because many are forced to work in poor conditions for low pay that no Canadian would accept.
Meanwhile, he says, Canadian workers suffer because the steady supply of foreigners allows employers to keep wages low.
i880 News, Wed Jun 16 2010
There are nearly twice as many temporary foreign workers in Alberta now as there were at the height of the economic boom.
Newly-released figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that on Dec. 1, 2009, there were 69,000 foreign workers in the province, compared to only 35,000 in 2006.
Alberta's unemployment rate currently sits at 6.6%.
"It doesn't make sense," said Terry Andriuk, head of the temporary foreign worker program at Edmonton's Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour calls it a "lose-lose situation."
It's been a bad deal for the foreigners, says Gil McGowan, because many are forced to work in poor conditions for low pay that no Canadian would accept. Meanwhile, he says, Canadian workers suffer because the steady supply of foreigners allows employers to keep wages low.
Interestingly, the Alberta government froze the minimum wage at $8.80 per hour earlier this year, arguing that it had no choice in this tough economic climate.
"Canada is a country that was built by immigrants," he says. "But the temporary foreign worker program is not immigration. It's a thinly-disguised guest worker program that creates an under class of exploitable workers."
Recruiters, meanwhile, lure workers to Canada by telling them it's a foot in the door for immigration, says Andriuk, who says some of her clients were told by recruiters in their homeland that they can come here under a temporary visa and work their way to permanent residency.
"It puts entire families in very precarious positions," she says.
Some, from countries like Britain and Germany, sell their homes in anticipation of immigrating. A few have become so distraught that Andriuk has had to refer them to mental health workers.
According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, employers can only hire temporary foreign workers if "reasonable efforts" have been made to hire a Canadian, but have been unsuccessful.
CIC has five classifications of foreign worker: managerial, professional, skilled and technical, intermediate and clerical, and labourer.
In 2004 there were only 169 TFWs in the unskilled labourer category in Alberta. By 2008 that figure had exploded to 13,445, making it the largest single category.
Andriuk says that in 2008 and 2009, when the economy tanked and temporary foreign workers found themselves out of work, they were initially denied EI, even though they paid for it.
"People in the EI offices didn't even know the rules," she says. "A few groups had to tell them."
Other TFWs had to wait more than year for income tax refunds, which often came long after they were back home.
"And what about their (Canada Pension Plan) contributions?" she says. "Nobody's figured what's going to happen there."
McGowan says the current temporary foreign worker program should be scrapped.
"Some of the horror stories we've been hearing lately in the news shows that it's not working," he says. "If we need these people, we should be bringing them in as prospective citizens, not as disposable workers."
Edmonton Sun, Tues Jun 15 2010
Byline: Andrew Hanlon
Trip inspires Lubicon youth to fight for rights: Teens visit United Nations in New York as part of human rights delegation
Leticia Gladue is a little embarrassed to admit it, but her bathroom at home is an outhouse.
Dawn Seeseequon has no running water in her home so she showers at school. But she can't shower and classes are cancelled when the school runs out of water, which it did for three days last week.
Gladue, Seeseequon and Daphne Ominayak live in Third World conditions in the richest province in one of the richest countries in the world. They are three of about 500 members of the Lubicon Cree who live in Little Buffalo, a six-hour drive north of Edmonton.
The Lubicon have been locked in a long struggle with the federal government over a land claim and development has been stalled there for decades.
But Seeseequon, 17, Ominayak, 16, and Gladue, 15, got a taste of the outside world last week when they got a chance to take a bite out of the Big Apple.
The trio flew to New York as winners of a human rights essay contest sponsored by Amnesty International, the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), KAIROS, the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the Alberta Federation of Labour, and the Agriculture Union (PSAC).
Their five-day whirlwind trip included visiting the United Nations as part of a human rights delegation. The visit coincided with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Committee resolution that Canada had violated the human rights of the Lubicon Cree by failing to recognize and protect Lubicon rights to their lands, and that intensive oil and gas development had devastated the local economy and way of life.
The resolution urged the Canadian government to start respecting the Lubicons' human rights.
The girls read the essays about their lives to the Human Rights Committee.
"Some people were amazed because 20 years later, things still haven't been done, nothing has changed," Gladue said Sunday, after arriving back in Alberta.
"They were kind of surprised by our essays and the things we wrote in them.
"All they said was that they were going to keep supporting us."
Seeseequon wrote about the impact oil and gas development has had on the traplines worked by her mother and grandmother.
If things don't change, Seeseequon wrote, "our tradition will eventually fade away."
Ominayak's essay noted that "the school, health centre, band office and very few houses are the only places that actually do have a running water supply ... which has to be trucked into the community.
"Little Buffalo has no recreation, nor any indoor plumbing, no gas station, or grocery store -- not even a health facility!" Gladue wrote in her essay.
"The people of Lubicon have to travel about an hour and a half just to get to the nearest hospital and grocery stores.
"This is what grinds my gears and disappoints me," Gladue continued. "Why can't my people and I have just a nice clean, healthy, little, happy community?"
Dietlind Bork, Amnesty International's regional co-ordinator for the Lubicon, who accompanied the teens and their teacher Carol Kastelic, to New York, said Little Buffalo could have "running water, adequate health services, adequate housing once they settle" so that means the federal government has made the provision of basic human rights a condition of any settlement.
The Lubicon believe the land is theirs, but the government says Treaty 8 extinguished the rights of First Nations, even those who did not sign the treaty, to traditional lands in exchange for reserve lands and treaty rights.
The provincial government has set aside 247 square kilometres for a future reservation, but contends the federal government is responsible for negotiating a settlement.
The teens say the process of writing their essays and travelling to New York has motivated them to continue to fight for Lubicon rights. Ominayak plans to make a video of youth talking about their lives on the reserve.
"We want to keep going to help our people," Gladue said.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Mar 29 2010
Byline: Chris Zdeb