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.”