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B.C. union asks federal government to halt use of Expedited Labour Market Opinion

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by Richard Gilbert

The federal government has changed a controversial pilot project designed to fast-track foreign workers in high-demand occupations.

Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union

The federal government has changed a controversial pilot project designed to fast-track foreign workers in high-demand occupations.

Despite the move, construction unions are calling for an end to the use of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs).

“As everyone is aware, there is a global financial crisis, which has also gripped British Columbia,” said Mark Olsen, business manager of the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union.

“In light of this new economic reality, there is absolutely no need for the importation of additional foreign workers into B.C. to perform construction work. This practice must be immediately stopped by your government.”

A Labour Market Opinion (LMO) assesses the potential impact that hiring a foreign worker will have on Canada’s labour market.

In a recent letter sent to Federal Minister of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSDC) Diane Finley, Olsen requested that the federal government immediately stop utilizing an Expedited Labour Market Opinion in the construction industry.

The federal government and the union do see eye-to-eye in one of Olsen’s areas of concern.

The HRSDC announced on January 1, 2009, that the Occupations under Pressure (OUP) list has been replaced with new national advertising requirements.

“All occupations, from executives and managers to low skilled are now subject to the same minimum advertising requirements,” states the HRSDC website.

“Failure to comply with the requirements will result in a denied application for a Labour Market Opinion.”

The move by the federal government is a response to changing labour market conditions and is intended to show that the HRSDC is taking care of Canadians and permanent residents first.

The changes have made it more difficult for employers to hire TFWs as trades helpers and construction labourers.

“It appears that the government has recognized that there is not the need for TFWs and there are enough workers available in B.C.” Olsen said.

“And now they (HRSDC) should look at cancelling existing LMO’s (Labour Market Opinion) that have not been exercised.”

Olsen has also asked the provincial and federal governments to ban the use of TFWs on all infrastructure projects financed under the stimulus package.

Despite the economic slowdown, other people in the industry argue that the program is still an appropriate tool, if used properly.

“The TFW program has been utilized as a short-term solution,.” said Gritziotis,

“We must get away from the short-term peak solution and be better prepared for the next upswing. Let’s not utilize these type of programs because we didn’t anticipate an upswing and we are scrambling at the peak for a solution.”

Others in the construction industry agreed that the TFW program should not be used as a short-term solution and the industry needs to anticipate economic cycles.

“I firmly believe this is a downturn that we will be looking at for six to eight months,” said Keith Sashaw, president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association.

“When the recovery comes and the industry ramps up, we will need workers in the construction industry. At this point, employers will be looking to engage TFWs. Lets not change the whole thing we worked so hard to put in place. We will need these tools again in the future.”

A spokesperson for trades unions in B.C. is concerned about the fate of TFW now that the economy has entered a recession.

“TFWs who have made a financial commitment to get here are being laid off,” said Wayne Peppard, executive director of the BC Yukon Territory Building Construction Trade Council.

“Canadian workers are also being laid off, while TFWs are being kept on. This practice increases our unemployment. We have no control over this, because the federal government doesn’t monitor or enforce their own legislation.”

The Expedited Labour Market Opinion (ELMO) is a pilot project launched by the federal government in September 2007, under the TFW program.

The project allows eligible employers in B.C. and Alberta to follow shorter, simpler and less costly advertising requirements to fill empty jobs with temporary foreign workers.

Initially, the ELMO aimed to fast track the entry of foreign workers in 12 high demand occupations. Only two of these occupations, carpenters and crane operators, were in the construction industry.

In January 2008, HRDC announced changes to the program, which expanded the number of construction occupations to 12.

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