Friday, 30 November 2012

Reported Elsewhere: Human rights museum staff leave amid interference allegations

CEO denies any political interference in content of Winnipeg-based museum

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has not yet opened, but there has already been an exodus of employees, amid allegations of indecision and political interference on the part of management and the board of trustees, CBC News has learned.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

BC Fed delegates call for a moratorium on Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Update: Nov. 29, 2012, 4:36 pm

By Bobbie Saga

The BC Federation of Labour (BCFL) is stepping up pressure on the Harper Conservatives to not only conduct a full, open, and transparent review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), but also place a moratorium on the program until a comprehensive investigation is conducted.

The move to increase pressure on the federal government came during this week’s BC Federation of Labour "Together for a Better BC" convention held in Vancouver. Delegates passed an emergency resolution Wednesday that includes calling for a moratorium on the program until a comprehensive review is conducted.

This latest move by labour groups follows the federal government recently launching an investigation into the use of foreign workers at a coal mine in northern BC.

Jim Sinclair, BCFL President, says the investigation is welcome because the program is being abused and jobs being offered to foreign labour are not temporary in nature. Sinclair also says although he is "cautiously optimistic" about the review, he is concerned about the government investigating itself.

"We're cautiously optimistic but frankly worried that it's only the government investigating itself, and we'd prefer to have an independent review," says Sinclair.

 

Others, however, are not convinced change is on the way for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or as generous in their comments about the investigation.

Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour President, says the Harper Conservatives "created a monster" when it relaxed requirements for companies to prove foreign workers were needed. And he says the same people that "messed up" the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, "can't be trusted to fix it."

"They no longer have to keep records of Canadians that have applied." McGowan says.

"They no longer have to explain why the Canadians were not picked. All they have to do is post an on-line ad, and they don't have to demonstrate that Canadians have actually applied or not."

McGowan adds the program has expanded to cover menial labour and other jobs. And, he says, because workers are sent home after four years, "the program has created an exploited, disposable workforce."

As well, the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC) launched a complaint earlier this month with the BC Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of four temporary foreign workers from Mexico employed at two Tim Hortons locations in Dawson Creek, BC.

Living two to a room, in a five bedroom home, workers were asked to pay $200.00 each at the beginning of the month, and then asked by the employer for an additional $200.00 rent mid-month, which their employer allegedly referred to as a "tip."

"When Tim Hortons advertises the Double Double, I don’t believe this is what most Canadians had in mind," Eugene Kung, counsel with BCPIAC, said when the complaint was filed.

The complaint alleges that in total the employer received $4,000 a month in rent from each of two separate homes where he required his employees to live. In addition to overcharging workers for rent, the complaint asserts the workers were subjected to derogatory racist comments including "[expletive] Mexican workers are lazy" and "Mexican idiots," while the employer described himself as the "owner of their lives."

"When these workers raised any concerns about their working or living conditions, the employer threatened to send them back to Mexico," said Kung.

It is also alledged the employer regularly asked the workers from Mexico for their passports, would hold them for periods of time, and that two of the workers were fired after they complained about their working conditions, while others were forced to leave for fear of reprisals.

"These workers were left vulnerable to a flawed program where the power dynamic benefits the employer and creates a ripe situation for the exploitation of the workers," Kung added.

The next day, Tim Hortons spokeswoman Alexandra Cygal said the company learned about the allegations in the complaint just prior to it being submitted, but that Van Den Bosch, the owner/operator, has not been with the chain since July 2012.

She says the company doesn't condone any of the behaviours or allegations made in the complaint.

More information on abuses with the TFWP:


Alberta Federation Takes On Advocacy Work For TFWs

In response to growing concerns, the Alberta Federation of Labour launches a Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate program to offer free services to TFWs needing assistance with work-related problems. The Advocate was launched in April 2007, with Edmonton lawyer Yessy Byl serving as the Advocate.

The Advocate releases findings after six months of assisting TFWs in a report called Temporary Foreign Workers – Alberta’s disposable workforce. The report covers the Advocate’s activities until October 31, 2007.

Then in April 2009, The Advocate releases a second report called Entrenching Exploitation, which highlights the re-occurring issues found in the Advocate’s casework. The report documents significant employer abuses and exploitation of foreign workers, plus highlights serious shortcomings of the TFWP advocate's caseload while serving as a volunteer lawyer and advisor to the program.

Alberta Federation of Labour Backgrounder: Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Low Wage Agenda

In April 2012, the Conservative government made changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program by introducing an Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) stream for higher‐skilled foreign workers. The ALMO stream is clearly designed to drive down wages: employers can pay workers under the TFW Program up to 15 per cent less than Canadian workers [Link to news release and technical background document].

Canadians Shut Out of Hiring
Under the ALMO stream, employers do not have to consider hiring Canadians first before turning to the TFW Program for foreign labour.

Lax Oversight
Under the ALMO stream, fewer than 20 per cent of successful applications are subject to a compliance review.

Widespread Violations
In 2010, the Alberta NDP uncovered Alberta government documents showing that 74 per cent of employers with workers under the TFW Program were in violation of the Alberta Labour Code [Link to Alberta NDP Opposition news release].

Secret Consultations
The review that led to the April changes to TFW rules was conducted behind closed doors, with no input from the public. Only employers were invited to participate. The AFL and other groups asked to make submissions, but were refused.

Bogus Labour Shortage
The Alberta Federation of Labour has shown that the Alberta government’s claims of a catastrophic "labour shortage" are not credible and overblown [Link to AFL news release].

Many New Jobs Going to Foreign Workers
Jim Stanford, Chief Economist for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), found that nearly 30 per cent of new jobs in Canada were filled by workers under the TFW Program [Linl to Stanford’s work].

Alberta #1 Destination for Workers under the TFW Program
In 2011, Alberta employers were approved to bring in 50,840 workers under the TFW Program, the most in the country (Ontario was second with 47,635) [Link to federal government statistics].

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Reported Elsewhere: The Limits of Liability in Canada's File-Sharing Lawsuits

The Limits of Liability in Canada's File-Sharing Lawsuits

Law professor, columnist, author
Suncor Energy has lost an appeal of a temporary injunction that prohibits the start of random drug and alcohol testing on its employees.

The Alberta Court of Appeal turned down the request on Wednesday after hearing arguments from the oilsands giant.

Civil liberties and human rights groups oppose Bill S-7 (Combating Terrorism Act)


Toronto - November 28, 2012 - Representatives from civil liberties and human rights groups will testify before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Wednesday, November 28 and Monday, December 3 to express their opposition to Bill S-7 (Combating Terrorism Act).

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and La Ligue des droits et libert├ęs are united in their opposition to the reintroduction of controversial security provisions into the Criminal Code of Canada.  

In a joint statement released today, all are in agreement that the current powers of law enforcement already allow security agencies to pursue, investigate, disrupt, and successfully prosecute terrorism-related crimes.

Excerpt of joint statement:

Bill S-7, also known as the ‘Combating Terrorism Act’, would allow persons to be detained for up to three days without charge ("preventive arrest"); strip individuals of their basic rights as accused under criminal proceedings to know and challenge evidence against them; threaten them with criminal punishment; and compel individuals to testify in secret before a judge in an "investigative hearing". Further, the judge may impose imprisonment of up to 12 months if the person does not enter into recognizance.

Individuals subject to these provisions do not necessarily have to be suspected of committing any crime. It is enough that they are alleged to have information relating to a terrorism offence, or that they are alleged to be associated with another individual suspected of committing (or about to commit) a terrorism offence, or that they are otherwise suspected of potential future involvement with a terrorism offence.

Furthermore, the scope of Bill S-7 extends beyond Canada’s borders, and could potentially result in a reliance on foreign intelligence. Without the ability to challenge evidence, there is no guarantee that the evidence is accurate, or was not obtained from a third country or source that conducts or condones torture as a method to elicit information. [It should be noted that the Canadian government has already given the green light to law enforcement agencies to accept information that may have been derived through torture, in violation of international agreements and standards].

 
Public Safety committee hearings on Bill S-7

November 28
 
Where:  151 Sparks Street, Room 306 When:   4:30 - 5:30 p.m , Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Who:    Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
              Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)       

December 3

Where:  To be determined
When:   tbd, December 3, 2012
Who:     Denis Barrette, spokesperson, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) and la Ligue des droits et libert├ęs


Monday, 26 November 2012

Backgrounder on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program


Fast facts

  • For the first time in its history, in 2007 and 2008 Canada welcomed more temporary than permanent residents.
  • Between 2005 and 2008 there was a 5.7% decline in permanent residents (from 262,241 in 2005 to 247,202 in 2008) and a 37.6% increase in temporary entrants (190,724 students and temporary workers entered Canada in 2005, and 272,520 entered in 2008).
  • The number of temporary foreign workers entering Canada has gone up 71.2% between 2004 and 2008 (from 112,719 in 2004 to 193,061 in 2008).
  • Temporary residents do not have access to the same supports and services as permanent residents.
  • Most of the growth in the temporary worker program is the result of the Low Skill Pilot Project. This pilot allows for the expedited entry of temporary workers with little education or skills who are dependent on their recruiters and employers, are ineligible for services and therefore vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Low-skilled temporary workers cannot apply for permanent residence through the federal immigration system.
  • Experience in other countries has demonstrated that similar "temporary guest worker" programs have resulted in the creation of an undocumented underclass and its accompanying difficulties.

Conservatives fast-track workers into Canada by relaxing Temporary Foreign Worker regulations

In April, the Harper Conservatives make sweeping changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program by introducing an Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) stream for higher skilled foreign workers.

Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, made the announcement while touring Advance Engineered Products Ltd.’s manufacturing facility in Nisku, Alberta. The move was defended by Conservative MPs as eliminating "unnecessary red tape."

But the review leading to the new TFWP rules was conducted behind closed doors, with no public input. Only employers were invited to participate, despite labour and other advocacy groups asking to take part in the process. Their requests to make submissions were also refused.

The Alberta Federation of Labour denounced the new ALMO stream as a "monster" and "clearly designed to drive down wages," with new minimum standards, such as a 10 business-day wait period and the ability of employers paying foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than Canadian workers.

Harper Conservatives Repeal the Fair Wages Act
 
The federal Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act was repealed by a single line in the 425-page federal omnibus budget bill in May of this year. The act mandated minimum wages contractors had to pay their workers on federal government construction contracts, calculated based on the prevailing wages in the geographic region. NDP MP Pat Martin discovered the move just weeks before the budget passed. Prior to that, the government made no mention of its decision.

In response to criticisms, Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt dismissed the legislation as "unnecessary red tape for employers," which was "really a matter of provincial jurisdiction." At the same time, she maintained that scraping the act would not impact construction wages. Except for her claim that scrapping the act won’t deflate wages, Raitt’s position is lockstep with that of Merit Canada, the anti-union contractors’ association with a history of lobbying against the act. In an open letter to Raitt last fall, Merit Canada criticized the legislation for resulting in workers receiving wages that "often exceed the rates that would be payable in the absence of such policies."

It was a move that had members of the opposition parties fuming, particularly NDP MP Pat Martin who discovered the change among 70 or so other proposed changes in the bill. The former journeyman carpenter said the drop in wages would deter Canadians from entering the construction industry during a debate in the Commons in early May:
"Contractors who bid a job by pricing out labour at 20% and 30% and 40% lower than their competitors will win every job, every time. They will drive down the prevailing wage, because those other contractors will now have to start bidding lower if they are to ever win a job.
"To whose benefit is it to drive down the fair wages of Canadian workers? Let me point out a secondary problem this raises. How are we going to attract bright, young men and women into the building trades if the normal wage is now going to be $8, $9 or $10 an hour instead of the $20 or $30 that it is now? Try feeding a family on $8, $9 or $10 an hour. Nobody in his or her right mind is going to go into that industry." 
Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB responded by saying, "Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the performance of my thespian friend from Winnipeg. I would like to make a connection to something his boss said, who is in favour of shutting down the oil sands. I would like to make the connection between the oil sands and the manufacturing industry in Ontario that he cares so much, which I applaud, and the construction industry across the country.

"Talking about cars and toys for kids, if his boss had his way and shut down the oil sands, there would be nobody in Alberta buying the cars that nobody in Ontario would be making. There would be no workers building, not just in Alberta but in other parts of the country. Could he make that connection for me?"

Scrapping the Fair Wages Act followed the Harper Conservatives ordering workers from both CP Rail and Air Canada back to work, and in each case within a few days of strike action.

Academic Study of Temporary Foreign Workers

 

In January this year, Nicolas Schmitt from Simon Fraser Uuniversity's Department of Economics, and Dominique Gross from SFUs School of Public Policy, release an academic study called Temporary Foreign Workers and Regional Labour Markets In Canada.

Their report highlights that beginning in 2002, the temporary foreign worker program has been expanded and conditions to access made easier. And although the two authors unequivocally state study in this area of public policy is in its infancy and much more research needs to be done, initial findings into the expansion of the TFWP suggest policy makers got it wrong and changes have been a detriment on Canada’s labour market.

Auditor General’s damning report


Canada’s former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, released her Fall Report on November 3, 2009 containing the chapter Selecting Foreign Workers Under the Immigration Program including an examination of how the government manages the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. In this damning report, Ms. Fraser exposes major problems with key aspects of Canada's immigration system that finds Ottawa is bringing in big changes with little understanding of the potential consequences. Ms. Fraser said decisions in the Canadian immigration system are increasingly being shifted to the provinces and people who employ immigrants without any follow-up to root out fraud and abuse. She took direct aim at the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which she said is bringing in an increasing number of often low-skilled workers for jobs ranging from oil sands labourers to construction workers on Olympic sites and live-in nannies.

Media investigation into temporary foreign workers

 
At the same time, the Toronto Star, in a three-part series, investigates Canada’s program for bringing in temporary workers. The Star investigation found the recession, employer abuse and poor monitoring is leaving more and more of these workers vulnerable and without legal employment. The three articles point to a program that "has been widely criticized for being poorly monitored and leaving low-skilled migrants vulnerable to abuse."

Poverty advocacy group takes on issues surrounding temporary foreign workers


In July 2009, Maytree released Naomi Alboim’s report Adjusting the Balance: Fixing Canada’s Economic Immigration Policies, proposing a new national vision for economic immigration. Among the 15 recommendations, Ms Alboim also listed three that dealt with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. She made the following three recommondations:

Recommendation #1: Eliminate the Low Skill Pilot Project for temporary foreign workers.

Temporary foreign workers are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse at the low end. Unlike the Live-In Caregiver Program which has a built-in transition to permanent residence, and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program which is tightly controlled, the Low Skill Pilot Project runs the risk of becoming Canada’s version of the European Guest Workers’ program with all its difficulties. Therefore, the Low Skill Pilot Project for temporary foreign workers should be eliminated as soon as possible.

To increase the pool of workers to fill low-skilled jobs on an ongoing basis, employers should make these jobs more attractive to people already in Canada, whether immigrants or Canadian born. In addition, Citizenship and Immigration Canada should increase family class and refugee admissions to provide more labour force participants who, as permanent residents, have rights and access to services to prevent exploitation. Increasing points in the Federal Skilled Worker Program for demand occupations, the trades, and validated job offers will also broaden the pool of workers.

Recommendation #2: Monitor recruitment and working conditions of temporary foreign workers.

While workplace safety and employment standards come under provincial jurisdiction, temporary foreign workers are a federal responsibility. The federal government should therefore provide leadership and support to provinces to help them monitor and enforce the working conditions of temporary foreign workers (including live-in caregivers and seasonal agricultural workers) and to regulate recruitment agencies.

Recommendation #3: Strengthen the "labour market opinion" process.

Before recruiting temporary foreign workers, employers must generally obtain a positive labour market opinion from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to ensure that the recruitment is warranted.

A strong labour market opinion process is essential to protect unemployed and underemployed Canadians and permanent residents. It also ensures that temporary workers do not jump the queue of applicants for permanent residence. The labour market opinion process should be strengthened in the following ways:

  • Require employers to search the database of those already in Canada and those in the applicant inventory recommended above before being considered for approval of a highly skilled temporary worker.
  • Provide positive labour market opinions only after the employer’s recruitment practices, training, wages and working conditions have been reviewed and determined not to be a barrier to employing unemployed or underemployed people already in Canada.
  • Implement a monitoring system to follow up on employers who were issued positive labour market opinions to ensure the proper treatment of temporary workers and others in the workplace.

Alberta Federation of Labour Takes On Advocacy Work For TFWs

In response to growing concerns, the Alberta Federation of Labour launches a Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate program to offer free services to TFWs needing assistance with work-related problems. The Advocate was launched in April 2007, with Edmonton lawyer Yessy Byl serving as the Advocate.

The Advocate releases findings after six months of assisting TFWs in a report called Temporary Foreign Workers – Alberta’s disposable workforce. The report covers the Advocate’s activities until October 31, 2007.

Then in April 2009, The Advocate releases a second report called Entrenching Exploitation, which highlights re-occurring issues found in the Advocate’s casework. The report documents significant employer abuses and exploitation of foreign workers, plus highlights serious shortcomings of the TFWP Advocate's caseload while serving as a volunteer lawyer and advisor to the program.

Temporary foreign worker update

Spectre of racism raised

VANCOUVER - Debate? Or hate?
The use of temporary workers from China at a northern B.C. coal mine has sparked a court fight, duelling versions of events, a federal review and a great deal of discussion.
And that's good, says Victor Wong of the Chinese-Canadian National Council.
But the issue around HD Mining International Ltd.'s decision to bring in the foreign workers for its Murray River coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., also highlights an "anti-China bias" that threatens to descend into plain, old-fashioned racism, he said.

Dehua shuts separate project over temporary worker concerns

VANCOUVER - One of the companies behind a plan to bring Chinese workers to a coal mine in B.C. has shut down a separate project due to a legal challenge over foreign worker permits.

Steelworkers protest over issues of Canadian jobs and safety for temporary foreign workers in BC coal mines

PRINCE GEORGE - Members of the Steelworkers Union protest outside the Prince George office of Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs and Skills Training. Tension grew last week in the wake of hundreds of temporary foreign workers being hired by HD Mining International for initial work on a long wall project for the company's Murray River mine.

Steelworkers put Liberal MLA Bill Bennett on notice during protest

CRANBROOK –Steelworkers from the East Kootenays speak loudly Wednesday about the Christy Clark government’s BC Jobs Plan, plus serve a notice of eviction to Liberal MLA Bill Bennet to take effect election day 2013.

HD Mining appeals unions standing in judicial review

VANCOUVER - The company bringing workers from China for its northern B.C. coal mine has filed an appeal of a Federal Court ruling granting two unions the right to pursue a judicial review of the decision to grant the temporary foreign worker permits.

Friday, 23 November 2012

United Steelworkers challenge BC government to suspend mining operation over safety of temporary foreign workers

The United Steelworkers (USW) District 3 is challenging the BC Minister of Energy and Mines to order a suspension of work at HD Mining International’s Murray River coal mine in northern British Columbia.

A lawyer representing the USW filed the complaint against HD Mining with B.C.'s Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman and Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman Wednesday citing numerous violations of the Health Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia.

The complaint involves the company's use of temporary foreign workers from China and its plans to teach those workers only 100 words of English prior to commencing work.

The USW complaint points to sections of the B.C. Mines Code, which requires that in order to understand and comply with the occupational health and safety rules and standards, all workers in mines must have appropriate facility in the English language.

"Given the dangers posed by a continuous production underground coal mine, it is critical that all workers have a clear understanding of workplace safety and rules at all times. Inserting a foreign national without fluency in English into such a maze of overlapping and precise safety requirements is a recipe for disaster," says Steve Hunt, United Steelworkers Director for Western Canada (District 3).

The USW complaint follows court action recently initiated by The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611. Those two unions are seeking a federal judicial review of approximately 200 temporary foreign worker permits granted to HD Mining for its mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Lawyers for the company and the federal Immigration and Human Resources departments sought to have the application dismissed. But yesterday, the Federal Court ruled it would hear the challenge brought by the two unions. Judge Douglas Campbell said in his decision there is a public interest in the case.

"I note that presently there is almost no knowledge of the contents of the (labour market opinions) in question, nor is there a method in the present circumstances by which their production can be ordered without granting the applicants standing in these proceedings," Campbell wrote.

At the provincial level, the BC Code mandates individual workers understand and fully comply with the following documents and procedures:
  • The operation of a joint health and safety committee
  • Material safety data sheets
  • Extensive confined spaces procedures
  • Special requirements and training of a mine rescue team member
  • The written lockout procedure and training
  • Log books for suspended work platforms
  • Emergency and rescue plans
  • All provisions of the Mines Act, Regulations and the Code, in relation to the operation of mobile equipment
  • Log books for mobile equipment
  • Operating procedures for the introduction of water into rock passes
Hunt says these requirements make clear how essential it is to the safety of each employee that everyone on a mine site has an adequate grasp of the English language.

"Given the importance of competency to the safe operation of a mine, the idea of teaching employees only 100 words of English is extremely disturbing, and it is clearly contrary to the purposes of the Mine Code," Hunt says.

"This rudimentary knowledge of English will not even come close to satisfying the requirements of the Code."

The union is asking the provincial government invoke its powers to order a suspension of work at HD Mining Murry River operation. It is also asking the ministry utilize its powers under the Mines Act to conduct an investigation into the alleged violations.