July 18, 2012
Changes to Provincial Nominee Program meet opposition
Construction labour leaders are opposed to a new B.C. government initiative that aims to fill job vacancies in Northeast BC by expanding the scope of the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) to include more eligible occupations for foreign workers.
“The change will open up opportunities for semi-skilled and unskilled workers to come in to the province and work in construction,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building Construction Trades Council.
“These skills are readily available in this labour market with local workers some of whom were born in Canada,” he said.
“The problem is not a matter of a skilled worker shortage, but a shortage of contractors, who are willing to pay a high enough rate to attract workers into these communities.”
The B.C. Government’s Immigration Task Force (ITF) released a report in May that concluded more skilled immigrants must be attracted to the province immediately to stimulate job creation and avoid the closure or relocation of local businesses.
In response to ITF consultations with employers in Fort St. John, the B.C. PNP introduced a two-year Northeast Pilot Project to address the critical shortage of labour in the region, by recruiting and retaining more temporary workers.
“On the one hand we have people coming in as Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), which allows for their systematic discrimination by the federal government and also provides a small kudo to the provincial government to retain these workers as landed immigrants and Canadian citizens,” said Sigurdson.
“We are not against people coming into the province as landed immigrants. But, when people come in as a TFW, they can be exploited as a group by the federal government until they are eligible to enter the PNP program.”
The federal government is proposing to make changes to the TFW program, including a new wage structure, which provides employers with greater downward flexibility.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said wages for TFWs that are up to 15 per cent below the average wage will be accepted for certain occupations in specific regions.
According to the B.C. Government, the Northeast Development Region is experiencing an extremely tight labour market driven by rapid growth in the energy sector.
The region is also forecast to have the highest growth in labour demand of any of B.C.’s eight Development Regions in the next 10 years.
For this reason, the pilot project expands the existing Entry Level and Semi-Skilled (ELSS) category to include all Temporary Foreign Workers employed in the region in any C or D level occupation of the National Occupation Classification system.
The occupations added include heavy equipment operators, trades helpers and labourers, as well as public works and other labourers.
To apply under this category, nominee applicants must have worked full-time for their employer in B.C., in an eligible occupation for at least nine consecutive months immediately prior to the date their B.C. PNP application is submitted.
All other requirements of the B.C. PNP’s province-wide ELSS category remain the same, including: minimum education and English language standards; and a family income that meets or exceeds the B.C. PNP’s Income Threshold.
Mark Olsen, the business manager of the Construction and Specialized Workers Union said the Bargaining Council of Construction Unions is vehemently opposed to this change in the scope of the program.
“Once again it shows the callous uncaring attitude of both levels of government to unemployed trades people in B.C., the untrained youth, unemployed women and First Nations, and to the foreign workers themselves,” he said. As an alternative, Olsen recommended that both levels of government implement the following measures:
Training monies provided to skill up BC and Canadians including youth, women and First Nations;
Properly identify if there is a need for TFWs;
Include Trade Unions as a critical source of information;
If TFW’s are required they must properly be brought here and paid a B.C. union standard, not 15 per cent less than the average;
Full enforcement by provincial and federal governments as to the terms and conditions of employment; and
Contractors must also be required to provide sufficient bonding to ensure workers are paid properly.
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