(Canadian OH&S News)
The federal government is investigating an allegation that 65 Canadians working at an oilsands project in Alberta were laid off and replaced with temporary foreign workers (TFWs).
The allegation came to light on Feb. 7, after media reports suggested that a company called Pacer Promec Joint Venture (PPJV) had fired 65 Canadian ironworkers on Feb. 4 and replaced them with Croatian TFWs. The workers were employed at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake oilsands project, about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta., and replaced by TFWs earning about half of what the Canadian workers had been making, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) contended in a press release.
Alexandra Fortier, a spokesperson for Jason Kenney, the federal Minister of Employment and Social Development, said that departmental officials continue to investigate the matter. “Canadians must be first in line for available jobs,” Fortier said. “Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Those who are found to have violated the rules of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will be added to a blacklist and denied the ability to hire temporary foreign workers in the future.”
On the same day that the allegation came to light, the company — a joint venture between Pacer Construction Holdings Corporation and Construction Promec Inc. — issued a statement confirming that it would “re-hire Canadians to impacted positions that had been filled with temporary foreign workers.” The statement said that one of PPJV’s subcontractors had applied to the TFWP due to a labour shortage for ironworkers, adding that its contractors were following “the necessary process and believe they are in compliance” with the TFWP.
“On behalf of PPJV, I regret that our actions, which we believe are consistent with the legislation, led to the current controversy,” said Paolo Cattelan, managing partner for PPJV, in the statement. “These temporary workers should have been assigned to other projects where there is an existing labour shortage.”
Several days after the release of the PPJV statement, Olav Rokne, the AFL’s communications director, told COHSN that none of the affected workers had been contacted by the company about being rehired. “I know that some of the TFWs are being moved to a different site, but the Canadian workers, as far as I know, are not being rehired,” he said. AFL president Gil McGowan added in the press release that many important questions remain.
“The company says they will move the TFWs to another work site. Will these TFWs fill jobs on that site that would have otherwise been available to Canadians? Will they still be paid half the wage of Canadian workers?” McGowan asked. “Perhaps most importantly, will the companies involved face any consequences? Will they be fined? Will they lose their right to bring TFWs into the country? Canadians deserve answers to these questions.”
The AFL is also calling for a “sunshine list” to expose abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Last December, the federal government announced changes to the program after a public backlash related to alleged incidents of abuse, including workers at the Royal Bank of Canada who had been ordered to train their TFW replacements and a mining company in British Columbia that planned to bring in about 200 Chinese workers.
Gov’t has removed existing wage flexibility
Fortier said that the changes, which include the following, remain under review:
* The authority to conduct onsite inspections to ensure that employers are meeting program conditions;
* The ability to ban non-compliant employers from the program for two years and immediately add their names to a public blacklist;
* Requiring employers who legitimately rely on TFWs, due to a lack of qualified Canadian applications, to have a plan to transition to a Canadian workforce over time;
* Requiring employers to pay TFWs at the prevailing wage by removing the existing wage flexibility;
* Adding questions to employers’ labour market opinion (LMO) applications to ensure that the program is not used to facilitate the outsourcing of Canadian jobs;
* Introducing fees for employers for LMO processing;
* Making English and French the only languages that can be used as a job requirement when hiring through the TFW process; and
* Suspending the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion process.