Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Temporary worker program doesn't work for foreigners or NLers; bring in the AG

I gave the following speech today (April 29th) on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker,

I stand in support of the motion by the honourable member for Newton-North Delta.

That, in the opinion of the House, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been open to abuse resulting in the firing of qualified Canadian Workers, lower wages, and exploitation of temporary foreign workers.

Therefore, the government should:

A) impose an immediate moratorium  on the stream of lower-skilled occupations, which include fast-food service and restaurant jobs and;

B) request an urgent audit of the whole program by the Auditor General of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I want to first deal with abuse within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

There have been complaints across the country, Mr. Speaker, but my perspective is the Newfoundland and Labrador perspective, with particular emphasis on my riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Mr. Speaker, the first time I heard of abuse with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was in December 2012 when the Atlantic New Democratic caucus travelled to Labrador West for meetings.

We heard horror stories at the time (and I described them as horror stories) of more than 20 Temporary Foreign Workers forced to live in a single home.

We went public then with the story, Mr. Speaker. I listened to the CBC radio clip again just this morning, it’s available on the web.

It wasn’t until November 2013 – 11 months later – that Canada Border Services executed a warrant at a Labrador City residence as part of an investigation into housing arrangements for Temporary Foreign Workers.

And then it wasn’t until April, 2014 – earlier this month, 16 months after our caucus went public with the alleged abuse – that the Conservative government suspended two Labrador City restaurants from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Four former employees of the two restaurants told CBC news that 26 foreign workers – 26 foreign workers, Mr. Speaker – had shared one Labrador City split-level residence for months, in violation of their employer’s agreement with the federal government.

That was the first case, Mr. Speaker.

My office has dealt with numerous cases.

Another complaint was received by my office in early 2012 from the parent of a young person who worked at a McDonald’s in St. John’s.

It was alleged that the young person’s hours of work were cut back when the restaurant brought in temporary foreign workers.

The parent explained that Temporary Foreign Workers were guaranteed a set number of hours as a condition of their being brought in, and at the expense of our local young people.

Yet another complaint was recorded by my office, again in late 2002, and it involved 5 Guatemalan labourers employed as chicken catchers.

They had two complaints, Mr. Speaker.

First, they alleged they weren’t paid what they were promised before coming to work in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They alleged they were paid less than their Canadian counterparts for the same work.

Their other complaint had to do with living condition.

My staff visited the basement apartment where they were lodged, and we took pictures Mr. Speaker.

We also brought in the local newspaper, which wrote an article on the plight of the Guatemalan workers.

Let me quote from that article, Mr. Speaker.

“The five workers say they were living in sub-par conditions in the basement of a company-owned Mount Pearl house, sharing a tiny ill-equipped kitchen, living with mould and holes in the ceiling that dripped water, and sleeping on filthy mattresses.

Each was charged $80 a week for the basement apartment for a total of $1,600 a month. When they complained one worker said he was told it must be better than his house in Guatemala.”

Mr. Speaker,  one of the points I made with the media at that time,  in December 2012, was how there’s no oversight in Canada when it came to Temporary Foreign Workers.

No federal oversight.

The provincial Labour Department looked into the complaint by the Guatemalan workers that they weren’t paid what they were promised.

All the provincial department could do , and they tried their best, was ensure the foreign workers were at least paid the minimum wage.

As for the living conditions where they were forced to live, the squalor, Mr. Speaker, we went to the local municipality and the General Consulate of Guatemala in Montreal.

Repairs were eventually made to the basement apartment but the 5 Guatemalans went home, and they haven’t returned.

Which is what they were afraid of.

That, as a result of complaining, there would be repercussions.

My point is, Mr. Speaker, the federal government runs the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and it should investigate when there are complaints about pay and living conditions.

When there are complaints – period, Mr. Speaker.

But my office couldn’t find anyone federally to investigate.

I’ve received 2 more complaints in recent days, Mr. Speaker.

One complaint is from an unemployed aircraft technician who says temporary foreign workers are replacing locals who are ready, willing and able to work.

We referred that complaint to Human Resources Skills Development Canada and the answering machine said they will not provide any feedback or give an update as a result of the information we submitted.

Where’s the accountability, Mr. Speaker?

The other complaint was from a former employee of McDonald’s in St. John’s.

But I’ll save that to the end, Mr. Speaker.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program has grown to outrageous proportions,  it’s pushed down wages and resulted in Canadians being let go – or forced to move on -  and replaced with foreign workers.

The number of Temporary Foreign workers in Newfoundland and Labrador jumped from 916 in 2006.

To 1,392 in 2010.

That’s a growth of almost 500 workers in the span of four years.

At the same time, according to Statistics Canada, our youth unemployment rate in Newfoundland and Labrador as of April stood at 20.2 per cent.

The highest in the country.

Less than 50 per cent of youth 15 to 29 were employed in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013.

So what are we doing with Temporary Foreign Workers?

There is a need, Mr. Speaker all sides admit that, but the Temporary Foreign Worker program is not administered in the best interests of foreign workers.

To ensure they are paid fairly and with decent living conditions.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program is also not administered in the best interests of Canadians and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

It’s not addressing unemployment.

If anything, it’s driving down wages and taking work away from our own.

The Conservative Employment Minister brought down a moratorium late last week on the use of Temporary Foreign Workers in restaurants.

That doesn’t go far enough, Mr. Speaker.

The moratorium should be on all lower-skilled occupations until this Conservative government fixes the program and there’s an independent review of the entire kit and caboodle.

Mr. Speaker, let me return to that second complaint I’ve received in recent days.

I want to end with a quote from that letter.

"To be blunt, if business owners viewed staff as more than indebted serfs and did the right thing and actually paid better wages and took care of their staff there would be less turnover, happier, more productive staff, and – to the benefit of Newfoundland’s taxbase – less outmigration.”

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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