Union protests temp foreign workers

'What are they doing for people in Kamloops who want these jobs?'

Cam Fortems / Kamloops Daily News
November 20, 2012 01:00 AM

A Canadian labour union wants to keep Canadian workers on the job and temporary foreign workers at home.

United Steelworkers is set to protest Wednesday in Kamloops over the federal and provincial governments' handling of temporary foreign workers, highlighted by a Chinese firm hiring 200-300 Chinese nationals to work temporarily at a coal mine in the Peace River region.

"This is an issue where they come, work, take the resources and go home," said Steelworkers staff representative Randy Gatzka. "The money isn't spent here."

Kamloops MP Cathy McLeod said the Temporary Foreign Worker program is intended to give Canadians get first crack at jobs before workers are hired from overseas.

"That program is meant to fill gaps when there are no Canadian willing or able to fill those employment needs," she said.

One of those places is at Heffley Creek's M&J Dhaliwal Green Acres Vegetable Farm, which employs up to 15 workers from Mexico under a temporary permit.

"If I didn't have the Mexicans, I should lock up the farm," Mota Dhaliwal said Tuesday.

"For $10.25 (an hour) people (here) don't want to work."

Dhaliwal said he has nine temporary foreign workers now on his farm, doing tasks that include washing, sorting and handling vegetables.

Because employment rules are different for farm labour, hours can be long, without overtime. But foreign workers are paid B.C.'s minimum wage, along with typical deductions.

Dhaliwal said he has used temporary Mexican workers for a decade. He is always looking for local workers, but cannot find stable employees. Googling the name of his operation brings up several help wanted ads.

"They're not reliable," he said of many local hires. "All the good people are (already) working."

Dhaliwal noted the foreign workers cost him more than locals because he must get them here.

Paul Lagace, who heads Kamloops Immigrant Services, said his agency doesn't have a mandate to assist temporary foreign workers. It is able to assist live-in caregivers, however.

Those workers, typically Filipino women, often don't know about the agency so it has little interaction with them. In one case, however, there was abuse of a worker.

"We had a temporary foreign worker put in a broom closet and charged $500 a month rent," Lagace said.

Gatzka said the union's concern is primarily with industrial operations hiring offshore workers. The union's major push is for government's to train B.C. workers for B.C. jobs.

"Our Canadian youth can be trained to do those jobs… . What are they doing for people in Kamloops who want these jobs?"

McLeod said an investigation is underway into hiring practices at the northern B.C. mine.

"The minister is concerned about what happened," said McLeod. "She's looking to ensure that rules were followed."

The International Union of Operating Engineers and Construction and the Specialized Workers Union have filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for a judicial review of the decision to grant permits to workers at the Murray River coal mine, near Tumbler Ridge.

Huiyong Holdings Group Ltd, said in an affidavit that its subsidiary, HD Mining, posted the job for three months in Canadian websites and publications and failed to find workers in this country.


© Kamloops Daily News

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