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Canadian on EI shut out amid foreign worker influx




Kathy Tomlinson

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CBC News

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A jobless Canadian IT professional who is collecting employment insurance is upset because he now suspects several recent jobs he applied for went to temporary foreign workers.

"Out of the 50 some odd jobs that I’ve applied for, I’ve heard back from two," said Glen Hamel, of Mississauga, Ont. "The rest — I never hear anything."

Hamel has more than 20 years experience in IT and said he meets all or most of the qualifications for the positions. Since 2005, he’s been laid off by Sears and another employer, because of outsourcing and downsizing.

Recent Canadian job market statistics suggest people with his skills are in high demand.

"Even though there is supposed to be all the jobs out there, I don’t know where they are," Hamel said.

'Doesn't make sense'

He applied for three IT positions with a multinational company from India, called TCS. It has several jobs posted in Canada’s job bank, for IT work with its large Canadian clients.

Despite his qualifications, Hamel got no response. "It doesn’t make sense. They advertise all these jobs."

In the meantime, a former TCS manager told Go Public the company rarely hires skilled, experienced Canadians.

He claimed that when he was with the company, in 2011 and 2012, it just went through the motions of posting jobs here. He claimed TCS then brought in cheaper foreign workers to do the jobs, saying it couldn't find anyone qualified in Canada.

"I wanted to hire Canadians, but I was told no," said the former manager, who agreed to speak only anonymously. "I had to hire Indian people [as temporary foreign workers], and they didn’t have the skills."

To illustrate his points, he provided forms TCS used in 2011, to apply for government approvals and visas, to bring in foreign workers.

They appear to be standard documents, with blanks for the worker’s name and other basic information. They list several TCS “proprietary” information technology “tools,” which the documents stress all workers must know.

"Extensive training in the use and application of these tools is indispensable to this role," read one of the documents.

Foreigner workers' skills in question

"It doesn’t matter what qualifications they actually have, they send the same form," said the former manager.

A copy of a letter to government states TCS is “looking for a very specific skill set which appears to be in short supply in Canada.”

The former manager told us that, in reality, workers didn’t need those skills in Canada and many of the Indian workers didn’t have the qualifications listed on the forms anyway.

"They don’t need these tools or use them at any time in Canada," he said.

He added that TCS would hire Canadians for entry-level jobs, but it rarely hired more experienced IT people in Canada, because they expected higher pay than workers from India.

The company responded by email, saying, "TCS is actively hiring Canadians. TCS job postings are made on various job websites in the public domain and we encourage more people to apply.

"In the current calendar year, we have already hired more than 125 Canadians since January, have trained and inducted a group of new Canadian university graduates."

'Factory' approves applications

The former TCS manager’s story fits with what Go Public was told by an ex-federal civil servant, who was tasked with granting approvals — called labour market opinions — for companies seeking to bring in temporary foreign workers in 2011.

Toronto resident Gordon Teti was fired from his contract job in the temporary foreign worker unit early last year, after management received complaints about him from Sears, one of the companies he dealt with. He is fighting his dismissal.

Teti called the office a "factory," where officers are expected to review and process 15-20 labour market opinion applications each week.

"There is intense pressure," Teti said, to approve applications quickly. "It’s not about the quality of work, it’s about the quantity."

The rules say positive labour market opinions [LMOs] should only be granted if the company can’t find Canadians or permanent residents for the jobs.

Government records show more than 33,000 employers were granted positive LMOs between 2010 and 2012. Go Public asked how many applications were rejected during that period, but the government said the information “is not public.”

Teti said most applications got rubber stamp approvals, because companies would complain to management if officers asked too many questions.

"When employers make complaints [officers] fear that these complaints can reach their managers …up to the minister."

Questions discouraged

His former union verified much of what Teti said about the program’s shortcomings.

"Program officers who actually question certain applications and request for more investigation are not looked upon favourably," read information given to Go Public by Ian Thompson, from the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union.

"These files are given to another program officer — who will not question management and will approve it."

Both Teti and his former union say officers don’t have the time or authorization to check if companies actually tried to hire Canadians.

"Employers will post the job, as they are required by the program — however, program officers have to take the word of the employer at face value if there were Canadians who applied or not — and a list of candidates is not given," said the union statement.

"The program officer is not authorized to call the potential [Canadian] candidate to check why the employer has not offered this job to him or her."

Teti provided an email to Go Public, which shows how one company’s lawyer complained to his supervisor, because he asked too many questions.

"I spoke to [your manager],” read the email, “about your question about whether the foreign worker had experience in the same field."

The union indicated officers have little choice but to approve applications, even when they believe the employer has no plans to train or hire a Canadian.

"Employers will continue to submit applications for a certain foreign worker who has been working for over 4-5 years … the employer has no intention of hiring locally," said the union.

"The program has many issues … it can be corrected, however, [Ottawa] is never willing to listen to the staff who have worked in this unit."

Government promises fix

In response, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada sent a statement, listing steps the government is now taking to improve the system, including charging application fees, asking more questions on applications and requiring employers to have a plan in place to eventually hire Canadians.

The government also said it is now meeting with several groups to see what more can be done.

"As part of the ongoing review of the TFW program, the Harper government is holding cross-Canada consultations over the coming months with businesses, industry and trade organizations, unions and others on additional changes to the program," the statement said.

In the meantime, as a result of Go Public’s inquiries, TCS said it is inviting Glen Hamel into its Mississauga office, suggesting it may now hire him for one of several jobs it has posted.

Hamel and Geyer have started a Facebook page, hoping to rally Canadians who believe they have been hurt by the influx of temporary foreign workers.

"We are not the only ones. We know that. There are a lot of people going through this," said Geyer.

"As Canadians we are always very polite. And we politely kind of take what it is that we are given. But enough is enough. People need to rise up and fight back," said Hamel.


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