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The union movement in British Columbia has scored a victory with the decision by a mining company to halt plans to create an open-pit coal mine in the north of the province using temporary foreign workers.
As reported Tuesday, HD Mining has reluctantly decided to send home the first 16 of hundreds of workers from China that it intended to bring into the province for its mine project using Canada's temporary foreign worker program.
Last year, when its plans began to be challenged, the company said that not a single one of the approximately 300 Canadian residents who applied to work at the mine project was qualified.
The decision is a victory for two unions, backed by the rest of the union movement, that have gone to the courts to block the hiring plan. Formal hearings for the legal challenge are to begin in April.
The unions and the B.C. Federation of Labour argue that the present immigration system should be used for labour market needs when the pool of existing job applicants in Canada is deemed insufficient. Workers coming to Canada in such a process would have far more rights than under the temporary program. Of course, that's why growing numbers of companies are blatantly turning to the temporary program (including filling such "temporary" service jobs as working in coffee shops).
Canada's temporary foreign worker policy is anti-union and anti-worker. It circumvents existing laws and procedures that, however flawed, provide legal rights to workers immigrating to Canada. Flawed as they are, such institutions as labour relations laws, immigration laws and proceedings, human rights legislation, etc. are far more protective of workers rights than the vague promises of companies seeking cheap labour and the governments that protect their interests.
The temporary worker program also dampens the natural tendency for wages to rise when companies have difficulty in finding the workers they need.
It is absurd for companies like HD Mining to turn to a temporary foreign worker program when the official unemployment rate in Canada is close to double-digit and when deeply discriminatory hiring practices leave many Aboriginal people out of the running for jobs in the natural resource industries such as mining. In recent months, thousands of full time workers in British Columbia have lost their jobs.
Presently, there are approximately 70,000 temporary foreign workers residing in the province.
"We don't have a temporary shortage of workers, we have a shortage of jobs," B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair has recently commented.
The most effective response to the abuses of the temporary foreign workers is to abolish the program that strips them of their rights.
Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker and IAM member.
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