Canadians cannot allow business lobbyists to dominate discussion of guest-worker programRead more
2015 Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline
Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline
On the eve of the federal government’s April 1 deadline for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), Canadians should feel sympathy for the thousands of people facing the prospect of being sent home … and they should feel anger and disgust towards the federal government for the ham-handed way they’ve handled this file.
It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual Temporary Foreign workers, because – quite simply – they’ve done nothing wrong.
They came to Canada in good faith. They worked hard. They dreamed about better lives for themselves and their families. They don’t deserve the lies, broken promises and outright exploitation that they’ve suffered at the hands of the Harper government and many unscrupulous employers and fly-by-night labour brokers.
However, while it is appropriate for us to feel sympathy for these workers, we cannot lose sight of what needs to be done. And what the federal government needs to do is shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) – or, at the very least, scale it back to what it was before they made the decision to expand it a decade ago.
We take this position because Canada doesn’t need an exploitative guest worker program. What we need is real immigration. We also need better training – both in our schools and from employers – so that Canadians can benefit from the opportunities offered in our national and regional labour markets.
The Harper government’s dramatically expanded Temporary Foreign Worker Program was never a good fit for our country. It was never a good fit because Canada is a country built by immigration – and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not immigration; it’s exploitation.
The Temporary Foreign Worker program flies in the face of Canadian values: values like fairness, tolerance and inclusion. It also represents a dramatic break from our traditional approach to bringing people into our country from abroad.
For generations, we embraced an immigration model that welcomed newcomers as citizens. It’s a model that served us well. But now, as a result of the Harper government’s approach – an approach which, I might add, was never brought to Parliament for approval – we’re now bringing more people into the country each year as precarious guest workers than as permanent residents and citizens.
The reality for the vast majority of the 350,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada – and the 85,000 TFWs here in Alberta – is that, despite the promises made by politicians and many employment brokers, they will never become citizens. Instead, they’re status is more akin to the indentured servants or the so-called “coolies” of the 19th century.
The defining characteristic of TFWs in Canada today is their lack of full mobility rights. For most of them, they can only work for the employer that brought them. Even if they’re being cheated, mistreated or underpaid, in most cases they can’t do what Canadian workers can do – they can’t quit and apply for a job across the street.
This is exactly what many employers love about the Temporary Foreign Worker program. It has allowed them to ignore market signals about wages and impose working conditions that would never be tolerated by Canadians.
This is why so many employers love the program, but it is also why we at the Alberta Federation of Labour have so strongly opposed it.
We simply cannot tolerate the continued existence of a federal program that has facilitated the creation of a two-tiered labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of precarious workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.
That’s our bottom line: Canada needs to say “no” to a two-tiered labour market based on the exploitation of vulnerable guest workers.
In other parts of the world, guest worker programs have turned whole economic sectors into low-wage ghettos. It starts with jobs that are already low-status and low-pay, like child care and farm labour. But, if guest worker programs are allowed to flourish, the ghettoization creeps up the wage scale to areas like food service, retail sales, construction and even sectors like IT and health care.
When this happens, wages and job opportunities are suppressed and tensions between citizens and newcomers become enflamed.
This has already been happening here in Alberta. A wide range of experts – from the Parliamentary Budget Officer to the former governor of the Bank of Canada to former Employment Minister Jason Kenney himself – now agree that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was being used to suppress wages. Instead of being used as a last resort, the program was a first choice for many employers – especially in the low wage service sector.
This distorted the labour market and was clearly uncalled for in Alberta when oil was trading above $100 a barrel. It’s completely unacceptable now that the price of oil has collapsed and unemployment is on the rise.
However – and this is a big “however” – while we think the TFW program should be scrapped in its current form, we feel strongly that something needs to be done to help the thousands and thousands of TFWs who are already in the country. They are just as much victims of bad public policy as the Canadians who have been displaced by the program whose wages have been suppressed.
With this in mind, this morning I have made a formal proposal to the federal ministers of Employment and Immigration. We’re urging them to close off most TFW streams going forward and impose new limits and restriction on the so-called International Mobility Program which is allowing a growing number of foreign workers into the country without even the minimal oversight afforded to the mainline TFW program.
But we’re also asking them to let the TFWs who are already in Canada stay. Most importantly, we believe these workers should be granted permanent residency and eventually citizenship.
As permanent residents or citizens, these workers will have full mobility rights within the Canadian labour market, meaning it will be much more difficult for employers to use them as pawns to drive down wages and conditions on individual worksites or across sectors of the economy.
Closing off most streams of the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the TFWs already in Canada will accomplish three important things:
- It will put all participants in the Canadian labour market on equal footing. It is most certainly NOT in the broad interest of the Canadian public to have a labour market divided into two segments: one with full rights, including the right to mobility, and another with constrained rights, including limits on mobility. Closing off the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the workers already here, will re-establish balance and fairness in the Canadian labour market.
- It will go a long way towards correcting what is, essentially, an historic injustice. For generations, Canada has been a beacon for immigrants seeking to create a better life for themselves and their families. But, as I’ve said, the TFW program is not immigration, it is exploitation. By closing off the program and granting permanent residency to TFWs already in the country, we could re-establish our reputation as a nation that welcomes, instead of exploits, newcomers.
- It will encourage businesses and governments to focus on the REAL solutions to meeting the needs of the Canadian labour market: training, flexibility on compensation and conditions and REAL immigration. Instead of relying on cheap, vulnerable and exploitable workers, governments and businesses will have to do what they should have been doing all along, which is to nurture, develop and support our domestic labour force – which is a labour force that has always included new immigrants with full citizenship rights.
Will Pierre Poilievre and Chris Alexander do the right thing when their predecessors would not? Will they hear our plea that Canada should be a country of citizens, not serfs? Honestly, I don’t know. And based on the track record of this government, I’m not hopeful. But we need to ask and we need to lobby. If the Harper Conservatives continue to mishandle this file, then the only choice for Canadians will be to view the next federal election as an opportunity to put an end to this sorry chapter in Canadian history at the ballot box.
March 2015: Sign the BWA petition; BWA campaign turns a mirror on Tory mismanagement; Looming TFW deportations highlight inhumanity of program
Sign the Better Way Alberta petition
The Better Way Alberta coalition is urging the government to fix the province’s broken revenue system. And we’re asking you to sign our petition. Join the thousands of Albertans who have already signed, and help be part of the solution.
We the undersigned residents of Alberta, petition the Legislative Assembly to ensure there is enough money to pay for necessary public services like education and health care by introducing tax and royalty reforms that include the following measures:
- increasing the tax on corporate profits to a rate that is closer to the national average;
- replacing Alberta’s flat income tax with a progressive tax that requires high-income earners to pay higher tax rates than middle and low-income earners;
- and introducing royalty changes that ensure Albertans receive a fair share from the sale of their resources.
You can sign the petition online at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca or in person at the Alberta Federation of Labour offices (Parkington Plaza, #300, 10408 – 124 Street NW, Edmonton, AB T5N 1R5).
Better Way Alberta campaign turns a mirror on Tory mismanagement
Over the next few weeks, voters will be hearing from the Better Way Alberta campaign, showing them that there are sensible, moderate measures that can help ensure the long-term financial stability of the province.
The province-wide campaign will consist of a central website and petition; a radio and online advertising campaign; a direct-mail campaign to every household in Alberta; and a door-to-door campaign in which canvassers will have face-to-face conversations with Albertans about the Better Way Alberta campaign.
“Who created the current budget mess? It’s time for Premier Prentice and the Tories to look in the mirror,” says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan. “We’re not facing a budget crunch because of anything individual Albertans did. The real problem is that successive PC governments have blown holes in the revenue base we need to fund education, health care and other services that Albertans rely on.”
According to the government’s own numbers, Alberta could increase the amount it gets from taxes by $11.6 billion a year and still have the lowest taxes in Canada. Most of that $11.6 billion that is going uncollected by Alberta’s inequitable tax code is being left in the pockets of the province’s richest individuals and most profitable corporations.
“If we’re all in this together, as Premier Prentice says, why should corporations and the wealthy get a free pass?” McGowan said. “And why should ordinary Albertans pay for the mistakes of politicians again?”
The campaign was created by a coalition of the Alberta Federation of Labour, United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Alberta Division). Visit www.betterwayalberta.ca for more information about the campaign, or to sign the petition calling on the government to reform its revenue system.
Looming Temporary Foreign Worker deportations highlight inhumanity of program
Thousands of vulnerable Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) are facing deportation.
On April 1st, thousands of work permits will expire, and the workers who hold those permits will be forced to leave. They and their employers were not allowed to renew those work permits because the government tightened the rules on the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
“The Temporary Foreign Worker program needs to be reined in, but without affecting the workers who are already here,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “There should not be any more TFW permits for low-wage employers, but the workers who are already here should have been allowed to stay.”
There are more than 70,000 Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta. The province has the highest percentage of its workforce composed of Temporary Foreign Workers of any jurisdiction in the country. In particular, it is in Alberta where low-wage employers have made the most aggressive use of the program in an attempt to drive down wages.
Did you know…
- Even before the price of oil crashed, revenue generated from Alberta’s shrunken taxes on personal income and corporate profits covered only about 40 per cent of the cost of public services, compared to about 60 per cent in other provinces.
- Women working full-time only earned 63 per cent of the annual average salary their male counterparts earned in Alberta.
Alberta’s spending is $9,786 per person on public services — $434 less than the national average, despite the fact that cost-of-living is higher here.
• March 21: International Day for the Elimination of Racism
• April 16-19: AFL Convention “Dream No Little Dreams”
• April 28: International Day of Mourning for Workers Injured or Killed on the Job
“Cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” move on TFWP breaks promise to Canadians by extending work permits and “fiddling” with caps
Edmonton – The Harper government has caved in to pressure from low-wage employers who want to hold on to exploitable temporary foreign workers for a longer period of time.
In a document sent to employers last week, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have already applied for permanent residency under the Alberta government’s provincial nominee program may be allowed to stay. There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency.
“This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is a deal that was cooked up behind closed doors with the federal government, the Alberta government and low-wage employers. It flies in the face of the promises that were made to Canadians.”
Kenney said in his letter that businesses will be allowed to exempt current low-wage guest workers from caps on the percentage of a workforce that can be made up of TFWs. Under reforms announced last June employers in Alberta were supposed to reduce the number of TFWs they have on staff to a maximum of 30 per cent of their workforces this year, 20 per cent next year, and 10 per cent the following year.
“Last June, the Harper Government promised to limit the number of TFWs that low-wage employers could use. But now, they’ve quietly broken their promise and changed the rules.” McGowan said.
McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly “cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.
“The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government’s Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education,” McGowan said.
“So this isn’t an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it’s all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year. To put it another way, they’re giving their friends in the low-wage service sector what they’ve been asking for and they’re giving TFWs false hope. They’ve framed their scheme in the convoluted way they have because they knew Canadians would be up in arms if they knew that this is really about letting low-wage employers hold on to TFWs for a longer period of time.”
The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.
“Canada is a country that has been built by immigration. But the TFWP is not immigration, it’s exploitation. That’s why we’ve called on the government to phase the program out. It’s also why we’ve called on them to grant citizenship to the TFWs who are already in the country. The reason these workers were distorting the labour market was because they were essentially serfs, not citizens,” McGowan said. “But now the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite on both counts. They’re letting employers keep their Temporary Foreign Workers for a longer period of time and they’re blocking paths to citizenship that could eliminate the underclass of exploitable guest workers that has been distorting the Canadian labour market. It’s shameful.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail [email protected]p
Edmonton – Workers in Edmonton took to the street on Thursday to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.
Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs).
In protest, workers rallied at noon on Thursday at the corner of 104th Street and 104th Avenue in Edmonton, across the street from the arena’s location. The workers carried signs reading “Built for Edmonton, Built By Edmonton,” and “Where’s The Home-Ice Advantage.”
“Denying an application to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) should have been an easy call when there are 300 workers qualified and ready to do the work just blocks away,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “It should have been an easy stop. Have the TFWP regulators pulled their goalie?”
Since the contract was awarded, and the applications were submitted, Ironworkers Local 720 has lobbied the city, the contractor and the federal government asking for the jobs to be made available to qualified Canadian workers, and for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits to be revoked. These requests have been rebuffed.
“This is the sort of project that ironworkers love to work on – It’s going to be a beautiful building. And in thirty years, local workers who had a part in it will point to it and tell their kids ‘I built that.’ We have literally hundreds of qualified tradespeople who are eager to do this job,” Ironworkers Local 720 business agent George Papineau said. “And most of these workers are local Edmontonians. They’re the sort of folks who haven’t given up on the Oilers season yet – which is why it’s so galling that the company building the new home of the Oilers has turned its back on them.”
Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. Since the project was first proposed, it has been plagued by concerns that the economic benefits would not go to residents of the city.
“Who is this arena for? Edmontonians were sold this project – and it was approved by the narrowest of margins – based on an argument that it would be good for the city. Is it good for the city for our tax dollars to go to American workers with no investment in the community? Is it good for the city that hundreds of Edmonton ironworkers are watching from the sidelines?” Edmonton and District Labour Council president Bruce Fafard said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan speaks to demonstrators outside of Edmonton’s arena project.
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail [email protected]
Edmonton – Some of the work on Edmonton’s new downtown arena is being done by Temporary Foreign Workers from the U.S. despite the fact that hundreds of qualified local ironworkers are available.
Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build.
“The federal government has repeatedly assured Canadians that permits for Temporary Foreign Workers would not be granted if there are any qualified Canadians available to do the job,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “And yet these applications for foreign ironworkers were approved for a project that’s within walking distance of 300 ironworkers on the jobs list at the Ironworkers 720 hiring hall.”
Contracts to build several portions of Edmonton’s Arena District were awarded to local firms that employ Canadian workers. Unfortunately, the crown jewel of the district, Rogers’ Place, was given to a firm that applied to the federal government to bring in workers from outside of Canada.
Based on the fact that there are more than enough workers ready and willing to tackle the project, trades organizations are petitioning the government to rescind any Temporary Foreign Worker Permits that had been granted for the project.
“This project was sold to Edmonton on a promise of jobs and economic benefits. But Canadian workers are being left on the sidelines, so the full benefits of this project aren’t being felt by the community,” McGowan said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”
“There were more than enough Albertan tradespeople eager to work on this project back when it started in the middle of last year while oil prices were sky high and the oil sands were going full throttle,” McGowan said. “Now that oil sands construction is slowing down, it’s even more offensive that Albertans aren’t benefitting from home-ice advantage.”
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail [email protected]
CFIB admits TFWP a disaster for Canadian workers
Edmonton – The CFIB’s proposal for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) would allow the foxes to guard the henhouse. On Monday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) admitted that the TFWP is a mess, and proposed an “Introduction to Canada Visa” which would still leave immigration decisions in the hands of businesses.
“We should see today’s announcement from the CFIB for what it is: a desperate hail-Mary pass from a group of employers who have become addicted to cheap labour. And we should reject it,” AFL president Gil McGowan said.
The plan floated by the business lobby group includes changing the wages that TFWs would have to be paid, from the prevailing wage rate in a sector, to the wage rate in a business. This would mean a business could ignore market forces and pay significantly less than what is reasonable for a specific job.
“Employers can’t legitimately say there’s a labour shortage unless they’ve increased wages to attract Canadians. The evidence clearly shows that in sectors that make most aggressive use of the TFW program that hasn’t been happening,” McGowan said. “So let’s give the new rules introduced over the summer time to work. Now that it’s a little harder for employers, especially in the service sector, to access the TFW program, they’re going to have to start increasing wages. That’s the way labour markets are supposed to work.”
In interviews in support of their proposal, CFIB president Dan Kelly admitted that criticism of the TFWP was legitimate, and that employers have made excessive use of Temporary Foreign Workers to fill permanent jobs.
“It’s nice to see the CFIB finally admitting that the TFW program is a mess,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “It’s also nice to see them admitting that employers have been using the program to fill permanent jobs, not temporary ones. But they continue to ignore the central issue of wage suppression.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail [email protected]
November 2014: Parkland Conference: People vs. Profiteers; Energy East wrong type of petroleum infrastructure; Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility; did you k...
People versus Profiteers: Demanding justice and equity
The Parkland Institute’s Annual Fall Conference will explore why, at a time of remarkable wealth production, the money seems to be skewing in very particular directions and away from many groups (full-time, part-time, casual workers; women and minorities; the abjectly poor and disabled outside altogether of labour markets, etc.) and towards a small minority; and what can and should be done about it.
WHEN: November 21 – 23, 2014
WHERE: University of Alberta
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS)
Energy East the wrong type of petroleum infrastructure
The recent application by TransCanada Pipelines to build a pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Maritimes is another example of infrastructure projects that will impoverish Canada.
By allowing oil companies to ship low-value product, it will undermine the economic viability of upgrading here in Canada and potentially put Canadians out of work.
“The Energy East pipeline won’t bring Alberta oil to eastern refineries – instead it will channel that oil right past Canadian refineries on the way to foreign markets,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “The closest that Energy East will get to a Canadian refinery is the Irving Refinery in New Brunswick, but even there, oil transported on the pipeline will not go to the refinery itself; instead it will be delivered to a new oil export terminal.”
Through research and advocacy, the Alberta Federation of Labour is engaged in a campaign to encourage the public, media and government to look more closely at the claims being made by proponents of the pipeline, including the current Premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick.
“Despite all the rhetoric and the spin, it’s clear that Energy East is not a ‘nation building’ project. Instead, it is yet another in a long line of projects aimed to perpetuating the ‘rip-it-and-ship-it’ approach that has characterized Canada’s resource sector for too long,” McGowan said.
Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility
Thousands of companies misusing the Temporary Foreign Worker program, uncovered by the Alberta Federation of Labour, prove that the program should remain a federal responsibility.
Documents obtained under freedom of information requests show that in 2013 there were more than 2,000 businesses nationwide whose workforces were more than 30 per cent TFWs – the majority of which were in Alberta. In the same year, more than 1,000 businesses had workforces that were more than 50 per cent TFWs. Again, the majority of these were in Alberta.
“If people are coming to Canada to work here, they should have the right to stay here. And that means immigration, not a ‘temporary’ status,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “If someone is coming to Canada to work, whatever part of the country they move to first, they should have the right to move to other parts of the country if they so choose. That won’t happen if provincial governments are setting up their own separate ‘temporary’ programs.”
The list also raises serious concerns about the role being played by foreign state-owned corporations in the oil sands. More than half of the workers employed in Alberta by companies like Sinopec (a state-owned oil corporation from China) and Samjin (a subsidiary of Korea’s national oil company) are TFWs.
“The Government of Alberta has – pressured by business groups – floated the idea of taking over management of the TFW program from Ottawa. If that ever took place, it would be a disaster for Canadians and Immigrants alike,” McGowan said.
Did you know ...
- Over the past 40 years, the average Canadian on minimum wage has only seen their hourly pay increase by one penny.
- 86 per cent of Canadian families will see no benefit at all from income-splitting.
- Only 19 per cent of Alberta children 0-5 have access to a regulated child care space.
- Alberta is 2nd-last among Canadian provinces for number of regulated spaces per child. Only Saskatchewan has fewer regulated spaces per child.
• November 14-16: AFL Affiliate Political Campaign School
• December 6: Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
• December 10: PIA Open House
Backgrounder Issued with AFL News Release: Sep 26 Prentice plan to re-open TFW floodgates would be bad news for working Albertans