Hir­ing of lo­cal peo­ple be­fore tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers en­cour­aged.


Some 12 years ago Blair But­ler found him­self wash­ing cars and strug­gling to pay a mort­gage and feed his fam­ily.

In an at­tempt to change his fam­ily’s for­tunes he re­turned to school and be­came a red seal elec­tri­cian. To­day, he’s back wash­ing cars and try­ing to make ends meet.

“It is kind of up­set­ting,” But­ler said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence to dis­cuss how the hir­ing of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers may be keep­ing lo­cal skilled trades­peo­ple out of work.

“There’s other peo­ple out there not work­ing at all and should be work­ing. I don’t know what has to hap­pen, but some­thing has to change.”

But­ler’s story was high­lighted by the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Labour and the In­ter­na­tional Brother­hood of Elec­tri­cal Work­ers Lo­cal 1852 as part of ef­forts to bring at­ten­tion to what they feel is an emerg­ing is­sue around the hir­ing of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers over lo­cal peo­ple.

They cited one lo­cal ex­am­ple of jobs for elec­tri­cians go­ing to for­eign work­ers while peo­ple such as But­ler are passed over. The fear is that the prob­lem may grow in Cape Bre­ton and across the prov­ince.

“We are call­ing on em­ploy­ers to in­vest in work­ers that are al­ready here and ready for work both Cana­dian born and new­com­ers alike and not al­low any em­ploy­ers to es­cape their obli­ga­tions of hir­ing lo­cals first,” said Danny Ca­vanagh, pres­i­dent of the fed­er­a­tion of labour.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that there is a lot of un­em­ployed and un­der-em­ployed work­ers in Nova Sco­tia and Cape Bre­ton.”

He said those work­ers are ready and ca­pa­ble to work on any new jobs that might come through op­por­tu­ni­ties like the Donkin Mine, the pro­posed con­tainer ter­mi­nal for Sydney and re­lated in­fra­struc­ture work.

In Septem­ber, Brian Tobin, busi­ness agent for IBEW Lo­cal 1852, drew at­ten­tion to for­eign work­ers at the Donkin Mine, in­stead of lo­cals. He’s still not sat­is­fied with the an­swers he re­ceived.

“I was told that it was a spe­cialty item, so then tell me what it is,” he said. “We’ve been min­ing coal here for 150 years and we have done it up un­til now. All of a sud­den there’s (a) spe­cialty item. I’ve asked those ques­tions and they have fallen on deaf ears.”

Part of the cam­paign launched on Tues­day en­cour­ages more dia­logue be­tween elected of­fi­cials, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees.

The unions speak­ing dur­ing the news con­fer­ence also want to know in ad­vance if a worker is not qual­i­fied for a job so that they can be­come qual­i­fied.

“If we don’t have the ex­per­tise in this crowd, then fine, we will wel­come them here with open arms.”

Tues­day’s cam­paign launch also called for bet­ter pro­tec­tion of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers in the work­place.

“I think we all un­der­stand that to place the onus on mi­grant work­ers to make a for­mal com­plaint against their em­ployer is un­fair,” said Ca­vanaugh.

“That said, we want any tem­po­rary for­eign worker who feels they are be­ing abused or taken ad­van­tage of to con­tact us so that we can help and en­sure such abuse is stopped where and if (it) ex­ists.”

Ca­vanaugh said the cam­paign has been in the works for months and launched now to raise aware­ness be­fore ma­jor projects start this sum­mer.

The fed­er­a­tion will soon turn its fo­cus on en­ter­ing dis­cus­sions with elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives across the prov­ince, as well as town hall meet­ings and in­for­ma­tion pick­ets.

“We need to end the se­crecy around this stuff,” he said.

“There needs to be some trans­parency about when com­pa­nies are bring­ing in tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers. If we can fill the void here we should fill the void here with lo­cal work­ers.”


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