Harper’s Latest Affront: Government-Endorsed Discrimination

Date: 
Friday, June 01, 2012
Author: 

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

HARDLY A WEEK GOES BY WHEN I don’t hear someone say, “Trade unions had their place and time but we don’t need them anymore.” A lot of people believe that because we have a decent social safety net that we really don’t need to band together to further promote the cause of social justice. A lot of people believe that because we have weekends and laws that restrict child labour (at a bare minimum in B.C.) and reasonable public services providing healthcare and education that we don’t need to organize workers into unions.

A lot of people are wrong.

Trade unions have done a lot more than negotiate decent wages and benefits into collective agreements. We have led the battle against child labour. We have marched with civil rights leaders to promote equality.

We were first to support not only equal pay for equal work but equal pay for work of equal value.

On behalf of workers everywhere, we have worked to end discrimination and fought for equality.

Now we have another battle.This time, against the most insidious form of prejudice: government-endorsed discrimination. The Harper Conservative government recently announced changes to the already deeply flawed Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. In a recent study in Alberta, the Ministry of Employment and Immigration found 74% of workplaces employing migrant workers were in violation of the Employment Standards Act.

With that knowledge, the government announced that employer applications for TFWs will be fast-tracked from three months to ten days.

Here’s the kicker: the employer can now pay these workers 15% less than the average rate of pay for workers in that occupation. When the Canada Line was under construction in Vancouver, the BC Building Trades found Latin American workers doing tunneling work for less than half of the B.C. minimum wage. Those workers joined the Labourers Local 1611 and, through the efforts of the Building Trades Council, took their claim of systemic discrimination to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.They won!

Now the government of Canada wants to make the practice of systemic discrimination acceptable. I know full well there will be less than scrupulous employers who will use the TFW program to save on labour costs. And I know those same employers will try to scam those workers for even more. Why wouldn’t they? After all they have a government that is complicit in the act.

As a Canadian, I am disgusted. As a worker, I am enraged. As a trade unionist, I know the struggle for equality continues.

BC Building Trades

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