'Partial victory,' but more meaningful reform needed to reverse Conservatives' low-wage economic strategy, Steelworkers Say
TORONTO, April 29, 2013 /CNW/ - Mounting public outrage and a sustained labour movement campaign have forced the Harper Conservatives to announce changes to their scandal-plagued Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
"This is a partial victory for all Canadians, but we need more meaningful changes to this program and to the Harper government's low-wage economic strategy for our country," said Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director for Canada.
"These changes are an attempt at damage control by Conservatives and their corporate backers who have been rocked by the recent scandals that have outraged Canadians across the country," Neumann said.
"We have at least partially thwarted the Harper government's efforts to develop a permanent, two-tier workforce for Canada, made up of highly vulnerable and exploited workers from abroad. The decision eliminate a provision to pay temporary workers 15% less than Canadians is a welcome change and should reduce the incentive for employers to have temporary workers replace Canadians."
However, the Conservatives have done nothing to limit the number of temporary workers coming to Canada, the USW notes.
"That's a major concern, given that the number of temporary workers almost exceeds the entire labour force in New Brunswick," Neumann said.
The USW applauded retiring Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, who has stated Canada's economic development should be based on increasing wages and productivity for Canadian workers, not importing more low-wage temporary workers.
The USW also criticized the Harper government for doing nothing to help temporary workers who are abused and exploited by employers.
"Nothing was said today about offering these workers a faster path to permanent residency and citizenship. This is shameful," Neumann said.
"These workers deserve the same opportunity that our forebears and many of us were given - to build a new life in Canada as citizens, not as a class of indentured servants, tied to an employer under threat of being shipped out of the country on a whim."
The Harper government provided no indication of additional funding to monitor the 4,000-plus companies that have applied to the TFWP. Proposed new fees will clearly fall short of ensuring employers will comply with the new rules. Instead, the program will continue to rely on the flawed system of voluntary goodwill by employers.
The USW also criticized the Conservatives' plan to ask employers to transition temporary jobs to Canadians, rather than advocate training and hiring Canadians for jobs first.
"The TFWP has operated exactly how corporations have wanted it to operate - haphazardly and without significant government oversight. The Harper government appears content with that," Neumann said.
"We will continue to demand real accountability and press for meaningful reform."
This week the USW will announce a new campaign, Give Everyone a Chance, For Canada's Future. The campaign will advocate for economic development based on good wages, as opposed to the Harper Conservatives' low-wage economic model.
The USW has been in forefront of battling the Harper government on the issue of temporary workers - helping to expose the HD Mining effort to bypass qualified Canadian miners in B.C., and offering to assist RBC workers who were being displaced through the program.
SOURCE: United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information:
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, 416-544-6009, 416-434 7907, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, email@example.com