Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers
EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).
"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."
The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.
"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."
"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."
"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."
"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."
Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945
Call it a digital warning shot.
Two Alberta unions have quietly launched a website, EthicalSpoon.com, which targets one of Canada's largest restaurant franchisers, Cara, over alleged "ethical concerns".
The barebones site, created by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 401 and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) only states, "There are serious ethical concerns relating to Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Harvey's and Kelsey's" and to "Stand by for more information".
"Your definition of ethics and my definition of ethics may vary," says Tom Hesse, UFCW 401 union negotiator. "But most people would agree that they'd like a restaurant in their community that treats their people fairly, or at least reasonably."
"People will obviously think, 'What is going on? What are the ethical concerns?' when they go by these places. It's a very good strategy on their part." — Marjorie Griffin, Simon Fraser UniversityHesse says the ethical concerns with Cara, hinted at on the new website, were uncovered during the union's interviews with Cara's employees. The UFCW currently represents the workers of two Swiss Chalet restaurants in Edmonton.
The two parties are scheduled to meet next week, to begin collective bargaining for the Swiss Chalets UFCW 401 represents.
Hesse says the restaurants exploit immigrant workers, pays its employees poorly, ignores health and safety concerns, and is using Alberta's two-tiered minimum wage system to its advantage.
Alberta's minimum wage is set to increase from $9.40 to $9.75 per hour this September. However, the minimum wage for liquor servers, $9.05 per hour, will remain unchanged.
And because the restaurants serve alcohol, Hesse says Swiss Chalets typically pay their workers the lower rate. "They don't serve alcohol there in any meaningful way," he says. "One of the owners told me it's less than five percent of their overall sales."
Cara is a privately held restaurant conglomerate that's been operating in Canada since 1883. Its 673 restaurants in Canada reported $1.3 billion in sales in 2011.
The company declined interview requests to respond to the website or to Hesse's accusations, issuing a prepared statement:
"As discussions are still ongoing between our Edmonton franchisee and the UFCW union local representatives, it would be inappropriate for Cara to provide comment at this time."
EthicalSpoon.com will function much like EthicalShoppingAlberta.com, another website launched by the UFCW 401 and the AFL. That site, says Hesse, aims to inform diners and shoppers of the most ethically sound places to spend their money.
"You can go look at UrbanSpoon (.com) for a rating of where to eat... based on whether or not people like it," says Hesse. "But our constituency of people are saying they want to eat somewhere that treats their people fairly, that has good food safety practices, that isn't overpriced, and that buys locally."
Cara's franchises will likely be the first restaurants to be on the receiving end of an EthicalSpoon information campaign, if working conditions are not addressed soon, Hesse says.
It may turn out to be an effective strategy, but is it fair to sling mud anonymously?
"I think it's a good tactic, they've got nothing to lose by this," says Marjorie Griffin Cohen, professor of political economy at Simon Fraser University's Morgan Centre for Labour Studies.
Griffin Cohen says unions in Canada are increasingly taking to Twitter and Facebook to promote their agendas, and keeping the site's creators off EthicalSpoon makes it all the more interesting to whoever comes across it.
"People will obviously think, 'What is going on? What are the ethical concerns?' when they go by these places." she says. "It's a very good strategy on their part."
OpenFile, Mon July 30 2012
Byline: Sean Young
It has become clear that the federal government, supported by a number of employer organizations, has a plan for transforming Canada's labour market in ways that will profoundly hurt Canadians.
It's a four-prong strategy which includes the dramatic expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the erosion of Employment Insurance, raising the country's retirement age, as well as a systematic effort to undermine the ability of unions to stand up for the rights of working people and improve their standard of living.
Taken together, these policies will suppress the wages and incomes of Canadians, rather than address the real problems in Canada's job market.
As provincial and territorial federation of labour leaders, representing over three million workers from coast to coast to coast, we are calling on the premiers to stand with the workers of Canada against this cheap labour strategy.
Canada's premiers touched on some of these issues when they met in Halifax last week at the Council of the Federation. We think it is critical that the following issues be front and centre when they come together this fall to talk about the economy.
Foreign Workers: The TFWP is not immigration. It's exploitation. These workers, many of whom are desperately seeking a better life, are being used to create an underclass to drive down the wages and working conditions of Canadians. It's not fair or just to them, or to their Canadian co-workers. The recent decision by the Harper Conservatives to allow employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15 per cent less than their Canadian co-workers is a blatant example of their low-wage strategy.
With 1.3 million unemployed, and several hundred thousand more discouraged or underemployed Canadians, our focus should be on providing opportunities for Canada's unemployed and underemployed.
Employment Insurance: Instead of tackling unemployment in many regions of our country, the Harper plan has been to attack the unemployed. The Conservative government's changes to EI are clearly designed to force workers to take low-paying jobs or have their unemployment benefits cut off. This is not about helping the unemployed find jobs — rather, it is about serving them up to low-wage employers.
Old Age Security: Increasing the country's retirement age to 67 has nothing to do with the sustainability of our social programs or with retirement security. It is about forcing older workers who have struggled with low and medium wages throughout their working lives to work two more years. It is about expanding the pool of desperate workers who have no choice but to work for less.
Attacks on unions: Unions are one of the few mechanisms to protect the rights of working people and improve their standard of living. What unions achieve at the collective bargaining table lifts the floor and improves living standards for all workers. Unions also fight for and are instrumental in making gains for all society, like the establishment of medicare, health and safety laws, and fair minimum wages.
But the Harper government has a clear plan to attack unions. The government has undermined collective bargaining in the federal sector, and emboldened employers to drive down wages and attack pensions in the private sector. In addition, through legislation like Bill 377, the Harper Conservatives are attempting to rob unions of the ability to use their resources to defend their members and civil society.
So, what is the solution? Canadians need our country's premiers to denounce this low-wage agenda and stand up for what is in the best interest of working people.
When the premiers meet this fall to discuss the economy, we believe the labour market ought to be front and centre in that discussion. They must denounce the exploitive expansion of the TFWP. They must collectively demand that Ottawa invest more in training to bridge the skills gap, so that unemployed Canadians can fill available jobs.
Premiers should also call for improvements to Canada's EI program, as fewer than 40 per cent of unemployed Canadians are currently eligible for benefits. We need our premiers to challenge the notion that Canada must increase its retirement age to 67. What's really needed is pension reform that will allow all Canadians to retire in dignity, such as improving and enhancing CPP. And finally, the premiers should recognize and defend the important role unions play in our society and our economy.
The provinces have power. Our premiers understand that Canada is more than the sum of its parts.
Canadians need our premiers to push back. And when they do, Canadians, the vast majority of us, will be with them.
Halifax Chronical Herald, 2012 July 26
Submitted by the presidents of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour: Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia; Lana Payne, Newfoundland and Labrador; Michel Boudreau, New Brunswick; Carl Pursey, Prince Edward Island; Sid Ryan, Ontario; Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba; Larry Hubich, Saskatchewan; Gil McGowan, Alberta; Jim Sinclair, British Columbia; MaryLou Cherwaty, Northern Territories.
Re: "Canadians expect a balanced workforce," Editorial, July 23.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan has a legitimate point. The more Immigration Minister Jason Kenney removes barriers for foreign workers to take Canadian jobs, the more difficult it will be for new graduates to find work in Canada.
I am a second-year steam pipe fitter graduate from SAIT. I graduated second in my class with a 4.0 GPA in all courses. I have applied to over 70 different job postings in the past four months and have come up empty.
The reality is, the easier it is for companies to hire a foreign worker who possesses the necessary skill set, the less willing these companies will be to train our country's future trades people. I decided to attend SAIT last year to receive my certificate and begin what I was promised would be a very lucrative career. Unfortunately for me, finding work in the trades is proving to be far more difficult than it was in securing my 4.0 GPA.
If the trend is to continue the way Kenney would have it, then I fear that our future employment in well-paying jobs is dwindling and soon to become obsolete in the interest of keeping other countries' labour forces employed over our own.
The Calgary Herald, July 25 2012
Nujra Ahnis, Calgary
Ottawa - The expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker pilot in Alberta is creating an outcry from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the (Stephen) Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," said Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, which represents 150,000 Alberta workers.
Originally launched June 1, 2011, under the Temporary Foreign Worker Annex to the Agreement for Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration, this pilot project allows eligible foreign nationals to come to Alberta to work temporarily in a specific occupation.
Through this program, a foreign worker can be issued a work permit that allows them to move freely between Alberta employers without requiring a Labour Market Opinion.
The Alberta pilot is expanding beyond the steamfitter/pipefitter occupation to include: welder, heavy duty equipment mechanic, ironworker, millwright and industrial mechanic, carpenter and estimator
"Our consultations with Alberta employers and our own labour forecasts show there is a need to expand the pilot to include these high-demand occupations," said Alberta's minister of enterprise and advanced education Stephen Khan in a news release.
The AFL says the pilot project will allow employers to recruit foreign workers without trying to fill the position with Canadians first. The AFL also says there will be fewer safeguards against abuse.
"Foreign workers are supposed to receive comparable wages and working conditions as Canadians, but there are no real mechanisms in place to ensure this happens. Once the foreign workers are in the province, they work at the whim of their employer," said Furlong, noting that a 2010 Government of Alberta report found that 74 per cent of employers who hired workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.
The AFL is repeating the call to expand permanent immigration to address shortages that may exist in Alberta in select trades.
The organization has long held the position that the TFW program should be scrapped in favour of an immigration policy that brings in new Canadians in order to build the economy in a sustainable way.
"This is not about a labour shortage, it's a low-wage strategy. This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of non-union construction labour that is desperate for work," said Furlong.
Daily Commercial News, July 25 2012
Growing up in Duncan, as I did, meant growing up in the airshed of the Crofton pulp mill. No one liked the smell but they liked what it represented — paycheques coming home to families.
The smell of the pulp mill in Duncan and other small towns in B.C. was the smell of jobs.
But Crofton is now Catalyst, and Catalyst is in a rocky situation. Crofton employees from the Cowichan Valley are going north to the oil and gas industry. In fact, half of all flights from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland to Edmonton and Calgary are oil and gas workers.
Not much wonder then that some of the greatest supporters of the oil-fields and pipelines are found in the labour movement.
So while so many others are having a grand time dumping on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the Building and Construction Trades Department (AFL-CIO), representing Canada's building trades unions, has an entirely different position.
"Pipelines connect jobs," says spokesman Chris Smillie.
The building trades, Smillie says, support projects that bring jobs to their members, and the pipeline does just that. A billion dollars of investment supports 4,000 jobs, and the Enbridge pipeline is a $5.5-billion investment. It's not jobs at all costs, and the building trades website is clear: "Economic prosperity does not have to come at the expense of environmental care for future generations. . . . The men and women of the Canadian building trades live, work and play in Alberta and British Columbia and have a vested interest in protecting the land."
The building trades also support streamlining the regulatory process. Working people are helped by certainty. Projects get killed by a process that drags on for years.
Smillie had some words of caution regarding the shortage of skilled labour in Canada. All governments, he says, need to support apprenticeship programs and ensure that apprentices complete their qualifications. Companies need to make a point of hiring apprentices.
Canadian immigration policies need to focus more on skilled trades. Current provisions only provide for entry of about 10,000 skilled workers each year, but the country could use 50,000. The United States is our best source of skilled labour, and Canada should encourage American immigration. And, locally, schools must support their shop programs.
The politics of the building trades taking the position they do on the Enbridge pipeline must lead to some interesting conversations.
The B.C. NDP, B.C.'s labour party, is strongly opposed to the pipeline. Yet the Canadian building trades are an influential group, and their support is joined by that of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council, and locals of the Construction and Specialized Workers' Union, the Teamsters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Welders. Other unions remain opposed, including the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers.
Environmental groups are keeping the province on high alarm about the Northern Gateway pipeline. But working people, those who toil in our resource industries outside of the cosy streets of downtown Vancouver, understand that our province is built on oil and gas, just as in the past it was forests and fish.
It is those workers who keep our province and country ticking. They're hoping that the rest of us are listening.
The Province, July 24 2012
Guest columnist: Suzanne Anton (former Vancouver city councillor)
An Alberta labour group is slamming an agreement making it easier for Alberta companies to hire skilled foreign tradespeople.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is easing foreign-worker restrictions. Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is easing foreign-worker restrictions. (CBC)
"Under this program, employers don't have to show that they've made any attempts to fill these jobs with Canadians first," said Nancy Furlong, with the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Kenney's latest move makes the Temporary Foreign Workers program an employer's first choice, not last resort," she said.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Monday a one-year pilot project that will reduce the paperwork needed to hire skilled workers under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Instead of waiting months to get to work, it will now take only 30 minutes, said Kenney.
"They can immediately begin recruiting in visa exempt countries like the US, invite those folks to come up and as long as they make an application for their certification to get their ticket to work as a trades person they'll get a work permit at the airport," he said.
The province is short welders, heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights, carpenter and estimators.
But the AFL said the project will leave even fewer safeguards against abuses such as poor working conditions and unscrupulous recruiters charging illegal fees.
"Foreign workers are supposed to receive comparable wages and working conditions as Canadians, but there are no real mechanisms in place to ensure this happens," said Furlong. "Once the foreign workers are in the province, they work at the whim of their employer."
The AFL believes the Temporary Foreign Workers Program should be scrapped in favour of an immigration policy that brings in new Canadians to address labour shortages.
"This is not about a labour shortage, it's a low-wage strategy," said Furlong. "This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of non-union construction labour that is desperate for work."
Kenney said he will protect Canadian workers by ending the pilot project early if the job market changes and unemployment rises.
CBC News Calgary, Tues July 17 2012
June 2012: Party of the Century; Harper attacks workers' wages; AB government low-wage agenda; oil-sands debate
Thousands of union supporters to gather for Centennial celebration
- More than 3,000 supporters of the labour movement will converge on Fort Edmonton Park tomorrow (Saturday, June 16) to celebrate 100 years of union victories in Alberta. "Much of what makes this province a great place to work, to live and to raise our families has been brought to us by union members," says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which celebrates its centennial this year. For more about the day, click here. Click here to see the lineup of events.
Harper government launches attacks on workers' wages
- A number of federal government initiatives revealed the Harper government has embarked on a campaign to drive down wages in Canada. These include new rules that would make it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers and to pay them 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage rate in the area. For more information ... The federal Tories will also change Employment Insurance rules to force Canadians to accept low-wage jobs - for more information ...
Alberta government's low-wage agenda continues
- The federal Tory government is not alone in its low-wage policies. Despite announcing a raise in the province's minimum wage, the Alberta government kept its rate as the second lowest in Canada, despite the wealth in the province and the high cost of living here. To make matters worse, in a blatant case of spin-doctoring, the Alberta Tories tried to make the small raise look better than it really was. For more information ...
AFL president praises Mulcair for igniting oil-sands debate
- While right-wing media went into attack mode against federal NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair after he talked about the dangers posed to the Canadian economy by an overheated oil-sands industry, the AFL came to his defence. AFL president Gil McGowan said Mulcair should be thanked for igniting a long-overdue debate about the appropriate pace of development in the oil sands. "The oil sands are crucially important to the economy. That's why we can't afford to get it wrong. And we are getting it wrong," says McGowan. The wild-west pace of development in the oil sands is driving up the Canadian dollar, creating a labour shortage, driving up costs for business, and creating an unbalanced economy. Government failure to capture appropriate royalties makes the situation worse. For more information ...
$5 tickets for Party of the Century still available!- After 100 years of fighting for workers' rights, tomorrow (Saturday, June 16) we party, party, party! Thanks to generosity of our affiliated unions and the City of Edmonton, there are still some tickets available at the greatly reduced price of only $5. That's right – only $5 per person for a while day of fun at Fort Edmonton Park, from the parade in the morning, musical performances by award-winning singers and musicians throughout the day, kids' games, crafts and the AFL's undelegated convention. Tickets are available at the park. Free shuttle buses are also available.
June 21: National Aboriginal Day
July 1: Canada Day
July 2: International Day of Co-operatives
July 10: World Population Day
July 18: Nelson Mandela International Day
August 6-10: AFL Kids' Camp
August 6: Civic Day
August 8: International Day of the World's Indigenous People
August 11: International Youth Day
Did you know ...
Top 10 Ways a Wild West pace of oil-sands development hurts Alberta workers, families and the economy.
- The Three Stooges problem: When everybody rushes to get through a door at the same time, they all get stuck. That's what's happening with the oil sands.
- Cost escalation: A recent report showed oil-sands construction projects went over budget by an average of 100 per cent, but most of that increase was not due to rising wages, but to the rising cost of steel and productivity losses.
- Temporary foreign workers: New rules allowing employers to pay TFWs 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage in the area will drive down wages for all workers. Relying too heavily on TFWs will mean we are squandering the opportunity to train a whole generation of skilled Canadian tradespeople.
- Remaking labour relations: Non-union employers are exploiting the oil-sands situation to push for changes to rules governing labour that include repealing the Fair Wages Act, changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, changes to Employment Insurance and using back-to-work legislation to undermine collective bargaining.
- Shipping good jobs down the pipeline: We upgrade only 60 per cent of our raw bitumen in Alberta, but that level is set to fall to less than 50 per cent in the next few years. This means that the good, value-added upgrading jobs are being shipped down the pipeline to other jurisdictions, instead of being kept here.
- Manufacturing jobs take yet another beating: Cost escalation means more manufacturing for the oil sands will be "off-shored," meaning more good jobs lost in Alberta. Imperial Oil has already tried it at its Kearl Lake project and several big construction firms have already been approached by manufacturing outfits in Mexico.
- Albertans are being fleeced on royalties: Royalties are paid after energy companies pay their costs. So if costs are going up, it means that royalties will go down.
- The Wild Wes stampede to the oil sands hurts other sectors of the economy: The high Canadian dollar hurts Alberta manufacturers, as well as those in Ontario and Quebec. According to Alberta Finance's Monthly Economic Review, we lost 18,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in the last year.
- We are an international embarrassment: If we allow the Wild West pace of development to continue, we will continue to be an international laughingstock on our environmental commitments. The only way to get serious about climate change, environmental monitoring, and enforcement is to appropriately pace development.
- We are failing the rest of the country: There are only three ways ordinary Canadians get their share of our collectively owned resource wealth jobs, wages and royalties. But as a result of the current model for development, increasing numbers of the short-term jobs are going to guest workers and more and more of the long-term jobs are going down the pipeline. Wages are being suppressed and royalties are being given away – all because the government doesn't want to take a leadership role in managing the pace of development.
Changes will depress all workers' wages, union boss says
Accelerated approvals for temporary foreign workers and provisions that allow employers to pay them up to 15 per cent less than Albertans will depress wages for oilsands workers, says the province's labour federation.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, presented a torn-up paycheque to staff at federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's office in Calgary Friday to protest changes he says will rip off an estimated 100,000 workers building and operating heavy oil facilities.
"Construction companies have convinced the Harper government that costs are out of control and that desperate measures are need," said McGowan, "but these changes will just make it tougher for ordinary people to get their fair share of the resource pie."
But the head of the association that represents non-union construction firms said the federal initiative is essential to shortening the nine-month wait his members currently face in getting approvals for foreign workers to fill vacant positions.
Steven Kushner, president of the Merit Contractors Association, said paying foreign workers less is fair given they often don't have the experience of Alberta tradesmen and because companies often spend over $10,000 in finder's fees and other expenses to get them into the country.
"We will still be looking to fill those jobs first with Canadians rather than undergoing the cost and delay of getting in a foreign worker," Kushner said.
Under the new rules for the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, employers of construction trades with a clean record can get approval to hire offshore within 10 days.
Where in the past foreign workers had to be paid the average wage for that occupation in the region, they can now be offered 15 per cent less, provided there are Canadians on the payroll who are working for the same rate.
Daniel Maher, an electrician and new father who has worked much of his 15-year career in the oilsands, is worried the new measures will lower wages and impact his ability to provide for his family.
"There's honestly a shortage of trades," said Maher, "but if they're going to bring people in, they should be paid the same."
Edmonton Journal, Sat Jun 9 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
Oil-sands workers to bear brunt of wage cuts, reveals AFL analysis of Temporary Foreign Worker Program changes
Calgary – Alberta workers presented a torn-up paycheque to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's Calgary office today to protest the way his Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program is ripping off working people.
"Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that allow employers to pay foreign workers 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage in the area are specifically designed to drive down wages for all workers – especially workers in the oil sands," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour which represents 145,000 workers. "We are presenting this torn paycheque to symbolize Kenney's rip-off of Albertans."
"The Conservative changes are a gift to employers, especially non-union construction companies operating in the oil sands, but it will hit Alberta families straight in the pocketbook and be reflected in their paycheques," says McGowan. To support his point, McGowan released a technical background document on temporary foreign workers today. The analysis shows the policy is explicitly aimed at taking down high-wage, high-skilled trades occupations in Alberta.
"Harper's new rules let non-union construction firms bring in temporary foreign workers by the thousands and pay them 15 per cent less than the going rate in the construction trades," says McGowan.
The AFL analysis shows the TFW program "is being used as a hammer to beat unionized construction workers out of oil-sands construction jobs," says McGowan.
"The Harper government is giving advantage to their friends in the non-union construction sector, such as Merit Contractors," says McGowan.
Oil-sands construction companies and low-wage lobby groups including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business have been pushing for an expanded TFW program to address a shortage of workers in select high-skilled occupations, alleging labour costs are what is driving overall oil-sands construction costs. McGowan also released figures today showing labour costs were not responsible for cost overruns on oil-sands construction projects.
McGowan adds that the wild-west pace of development in Alberta's oil sands is squarely to blame for any inflation, any labour shortages and cost overruns in the sector.
"The wild-west stampede to the oil sands is what is really to blame here. The Harper government – and its right-wing, anti-union, Tea-Party-style friends like Merit Contractors and the Canadian Federation of Business – would have us use Alberta's construction workers as scapegoats. But the real labour shortage culprit is a breakneck pace of oil-sands development," says McGowan.
"Pacing development, and putting Alberta families' interests before oil company profits, is the conversation Stephen Harper and his friends in the non-union construction sector don't want to have," concludes McGowan.
For more information call: Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)