Jim Sinclair: 'We support the rights of migrant workers in B.C.'

Photo: flickr/2010 United Way Labour Campaign Breakfast" by United Way of the Lo

We are pleased to see that there is increased media attention on the important issue of migrant workers, worker abuse and the continuing decline in wages and employment standards here in B.C. as well as in other provinces across Canada.

The article by Adriana Paz and Chris Ramsaroop is based on a short video clip reported in the mainstream media. We want to ensure rabble readers have the full story.

The issue of supporting Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) is at the forefront of the B.C. Federation of Labour's (BCFED) work to ensure that no worker is treated as disposable.

The labour movement has long called for immigration paths for workers that allow them to bring their families, take up permanent residency in Canada and participate in all parts of the economic, social and political life of the country. Indeed, most workers in Canada are immigrants or the children of immigrants who have settled in Aboriginal territories. That position is diametrically opposed to the very nature of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in the two lower-skilled areas where the exploitation is  
the worst.

Officers of the BCFED met with the Premier of B.C. on March 5, 2014 to discuss the TFW Program, apprenticeship and skills training, as well as increasing the minimum wage in B.C.

Our demand was not, has not been, to abandon or blame the TFWs in Canada, but to support them and demand that their rights are enforced by the provincial government.

We called on the province to set up its own enforcement system to document worksite problems and to ensure all TFWs have access to rights and enforcement in their primary languages (similar to the Manitoba Model). The labour movement has a long history of working with and supporting these workers in their fights for justice and rights. The labour movement has spent millions of dollars in organizing and paying legal costs to try and defend and protect TFWs in Canada. Our successful Human Rights Case against SNC Lavelin and successful court action for Denny's workers are two clear examples of this commitment.

Regardless of the sector or citizenship status, TFWs are vulnerable. It is this "temporary" status of workers in the TFW Program that we take issue with. An economy that relies on "disposable" workers is an economy that is bad for all workers.

Recommendations to the government of B.C.:

Establish a program of support systems for TFWs, similar to Manitoba, which  
would include:

- A registry of TFWs in B.C. so that they have access to advocates

- A path to residency for those with long-term job prospects through the Provincial Nominee Program

- The ability for a TFW to quit a job and secure employment with another company that is allowed to employ TFWs

- Investigation of allegations of employer abuse of the TFW Program/workers

Recommendations to the government of Canada:

- Broaden migrant workers' access to permanent residency status

- Establish a transparent public registry and licensing system for employers, brokers and immigration consultants accessing the TFW Program

- Require the posting of a significant financial bond which can be used to compensate migrant workers who suffer employment standard and contract  violations

- The entire TFW Program must be immediately scaled back in scope and there must be an end to employer access to "low-skilled" occupations streams (NOC, C&D), excluding other programs

In fact, following our meeting with Premier Christy Clark, she had the following to say in the legislature:

I have sat down recently, as the members may know, with Jim Sinclair, who is the leader of the B.C. Federation of Labour, and spoken to him specifically about what we can do together in ensuring that the rights of Temporary Foreign Workers are respected, including building a list as they have done in other provinces of Temporary Foreign Workers that are residing in British Columbia. It has worked and is working in other places in helping governments ensure that we are able to work to defend and protect those rights of those workers who are welcomed into Canada under what is ultimately a federal program.

The B.C. Federation of Labour does not support the continuation of the lowest skill categories under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. It is a pathway that does not lead to residency or citizenship but rather exploitation and abuse, of which we have seen numerous examples. Employers, who control the  
Program, are using it to depress wages in a large section of the retail and hospitality industries across Canada. These are jobs that have been important family-supporting and entry-level positions. In B.C., we see an increase in temporary workers in childcare, health care, truck-driving, food-service, hospitality, tourism and hair salons.

The TFW Program is fundamentally flawed and for the low-wage categories there is no justification for continuing it. The only people arguing for it to continue are employers who are seeking access to a source of cheaper indentured labour where workers are legally bound to employers for two or more years. The price of standing up or leaving the employer is to be deported.

Employers are wrong also about the need for this type of exploitation in Canada through this Program. There is no labour shortage for these categories of work. There are 160,000 unemployed people in Brtitish Columbia officially without work. The real number is much higher.

Our position is clear. We welcome workers from other countries and we also demand the federal government open the door to proper immigration so that all workers can have the same, albeit flawed, workers rights. Unions will also continue to fight for the same protection for temporary workers. We must work together to ensure all work is valued, and all workers are respected no matter who they are or where they were born.

Here is a snapshot of B.C. employers who have brought in temporary workers in the past year:

Private Sector
- Altamont Child Development Centre
- Acr'teryx Equipment Inc.
- Aritzia Clothing
- BC Guide Dog Services
- Burger King
- Casey's Neighbourhood Pub
- Chatters Hair Salon
- Hello Kids Childcare Centre
- Icebreaker Merion Clothing
- Lethbridge Liquor
- Lululemon Athletica
- Mac's Convenience Store
- Manzini Animal Hospital
- Maple Ridge Centre for Childcare
- Mountain Equipment Co-op
- Plenty of Fish Media
- Sandman Hotel and Suites
- Tim Horton's

Public Sector
- Interior Health Authority
- Providence Health Care
- Provincial Ministry of Labour and Citizen Services
- BC Children's Hospital
- School District #36 (Surrey)
- Vancouver Community College
- Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

 

Jim Sinclair is President of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, the umbrella organization that represents 54 unions and 450,000 private and public sector employees in the province.

Photo: flickr/2010 United Way Labour Campaign Breakfast" by United Way of the Lower Mainland

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