The Labourers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) is calling for a parliamentary review into the effect of foreign workers on the construction labour force in Canada, in response to a major cabinet shuffle by the federal government.
"LIUNA would like the new minister of labour to investigate the impact of the International Mobility Program (IMP) and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) on the construction industry in Canada," said Mark Olsen, manager of LIUNA Western Canada.
"The number of foreign nationals imported to Canada under the IMP has increased rapidly in the last decade, while the number currently entering Canada under the TFWP is declining. These changes are driven by reforms to the TFWP that were made by the federal government in 2014, so there is a need for a parliamentary review."
Olsen explained that in previous months LIUNA had a series of meetings with ministers to explore doing a review after then Minister of Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk expressed interest.
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled the federal cabinet on Jan. 10, which involved Ontario's Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu taking over the minister of labour position from Mihychuk.
The cabinet changes have important implications for LIUNA, said Olsen. Mihychuk stated in October 2016 that she was open to holding an inquiry into the TFWP and the construction industry in Western Canada.
"There seemed to be some good momentum, but we are concerned that we are now back to square one," Olsen said.
LIUNA was encouraged by Mihychuk's willingness for a review because the construction industry was excluded from a parliamentary report on the TFWP released in September 2016.
"The parliamentary review completely ignored construction and the needs of all participants in the whole industry," said Olsen.
"The committee of MPs failed to consider the needs of construction workers. Companies are using the IMP and TFWP to reduce labour costs by displacing Canadian workers and depressing wages. We viewed this situation as an opportunity to ask the federal government for a separate and detailed study on the effect of these programs on the construction industry in Canada."
Mihychuk made a commitment to ensure the TFWP doesn't take jobs away from Canadians, he added.
For this reason, Olsen is recommending that the new minister of labour, Hajdu, exclude construction from the IMP.
Oslen said this recommendation is supported by a Conference Board of Canada report released in September 2016. The report found the number of foreign workers in Canada increased between 2004 and 2014, while the number of foreign nationals entering the country under the TFWP is declining.
According to the report, more than 360,000 people had their temporary work permit take effect in 2014, a 64 per cent increase compared with 2004. More importantly, the largest share of temporary work permits signed in this period were exempt from a Labour Market Impact Assessment.
LIUNA released a white paper last year detailing its view on the abuse of the TFWP. Olsen said the union is currently working on a paper investigating the IMP.
"We are broadening our call," Olsen said.
LIUNA is also concerned about rumours that another cabinet shuffle could take place this summer.
"We need some stability on this file and we are uncertain at this point on the direction of the government," he said.
LIUNA has meetings with government officials in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.
Trudeau's cabinet shuffle also included Quebec MP Francois-Philippe Champagne becoming the new international trade minister, replacing Chrystia Freeland, who has moved to external affairs. Toronto MP Ahmed Hussen, a Somali refugee, has moved to the immigration portfolio replacing veteran John McCallum. Immigration policy also includes involvement in the TFWP.