Time for Nationwide Pause on Temporary Foreign Worker Program: United Steelworkers

TORONTO, April 24, 2014 /CNW/ - The federal government would do well to follow the example of McDonald's and put a nationwide pause on the lower-skilled stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), says Stephen Hunt, United Steelworkers (USW) Director for Western Canada.

The fast-food chain's announcement to suspend its use of the TFWP came yesterday after numerous media reports revealed that local Canadian workers at three Victoria, B.C. locations were being denied shifts in favour of workers hired under the program.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney applauded McDonald's and encouraged other employers to review their practices.  

"That's just not good enough," said Hunt. "Everyone in Canada can see from the flood of media reports that there are serious and widespread issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. For the government to sit back and simply suggest that employers take a look at their practices is negligent."

"It's a sad day when a huge corporation like McDonald's is being more responsible than our own government. The Canadian government must put at least the lower-skilled stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on hold and complete a much-needed full review of the program," Hunt added.

"So far, we've seen only a patchwork of responses by this government. It has failed to address the fundamental problems of the TFWP, especially the vulnerability it creates for the temporary foreign workers who are in a situation that amounts to indentured servitude, and the unfairness for Canadians who are losing out on work," he said.

"We saw it first at HD Mining in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. Now the flood of stories coming out of the food industry reinforces the fact that this program has huge problems. The longer it continues unchecked, the more abuses will be revealed. It's time to put it on hold. If McDonald's can do it, the Canadian government should be able to do it too."

Hunt points to today's report by the C.D. Howe Institute as yet another reason for the government to finally reform the program.

"Although the report doesn't address the systemic discrimination caused by the TFWP, it shows how the program has increased unemployment in certain areas of the country. There's another reason to put this program on hold now."

The United Steelworkers, a vocal advocate for reforms to the TFWP, launched a national campaign, Give Everyone a Chance for Canada's Future (www.everyoneschance.ca), in 2013. Through the campaign's website, it has encouraged temporary foreign workers to come forward and share their stories.

"We've heard many stories through our website and we can say with confidence that what's coming out in the media now is just the tip of the iceberg," Hunt said. "It's clearly time for the government to act by pausing the program and engaging in a thorough review."

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information: Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 Director, 604-816-2554; Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, 416-434-7907, jdrexler@usw.ca; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca