BURNABY. B.C. - The United Steelworkers (USW) is welcoming the federal government's plan to review its temporary foreign worker program after the union raised concerns about Chinese-owned mining companies' plans to import Chinese workers to mine coal in B.C.
The government has confirmed it will review the program after it looked into the USW's allegations that Chinese-owned firms posted ads in Canada requiring mine workers to speak Mandarin and agree to work for far-below prevailing domestic pay rates.
The same firms were alleged to have hired Chinese labour recruiters to find workers. Media reports indicated recruiters offered even lower wages and demanded $12,500 from each worker to get on the plane to B.C., then another $400 a week as long as they stay in Canada. Language lessons and a "certificate" from a Chinese employer also would cost extra.
"The government is finally doing the right thing," said Steelworkers Western Canada Director Steve Hunt. "Since the beginning, this story just didn't add up. We strongly believe that the foreign workers program is being abused, not just in this case but in a number of different ways."
Hunt also called on the federal government to put a stop to the recruitment and use of foreign temporary workers in B.C.'s coal mines, pending the outcome of the review.
"Aside from announcing a review, the federal government must take immediate steps to demonstrate that it truly believes Canadians must always have first crack at job opportunities in Canada," he said.
Hunt says the plans for importing Chinese workers has outraged British Columbians and Canadians, whom have made their voice heard.
"The government is feeling the heat. Since these plans became public, we've heard from countless Canadians who've expressed their outrage. We asked them to join with us in pressuring the government to put a stop to this and they responded in large numbers," said Hunt.
Hunt noted that the B.C. government must still report on its investigation of the companies' recruiting practices: if true, the recruiters' demands for pay in exchange for jobs would appear to violate the B.C. Labour Standards Act.
"But it runs much deeper than that," notes Hunt. "The B.C. government has run interference for these firms, even though it knew long ago that they planned to import Chinese workers, even though it announced these plans as jobs for British Columbians a year ago. Premier Christy Clark and jobs minister Pat Bell still have a lot of questions to answer about this scandal."
Steelworkers hope the temporary foreign worker program is wound down or totally revamped, adds Hunt.
"Right now it is open to abuse - and it stands as an impediment to unemployed or underemployed Canadians getting or training for good-paying jobs while vulnerable workers are exploited without rights or the opportunity to become citizens."
A proper review of the program should involve communities, unions, employers and immigrant support groups, say Steelworkers.
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Steve Hunt, Director, 604-816-2554
Brad West, USW Communications, 604-754-1174