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Demanding real changes





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With banners in hand, local representatives from several labour unions representing steelworkers, carpenters and bricklayers gathered outside the Queen Street office of Sault Ste. Marie MP Bryan Hayes early Wednesday afternoon.

They were accompanied by CUPE and OPSEU officials in a show of solidarity.

The group called for what it termed “real changes” to the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP).

Hayes was reportedly not in his office, but rather, on vacation.

Speaking to SooToday.com, United Steelworkers District 6 Area Coordinator Jack Ostroski (pictured), said: “At one time, under the (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper government, you had to post a job for six weeks for any temporary job across Canada.”

“That window has now been lowered to two weeks,” Ostroski said.

“We’re saying that to give Canadians an opportunity to access these jobs, the posting period should be lengthened again.”

“That’s a big point we’re trying to make,” Ostroski stated.

While Ostroski said the group wished to make it clear it does not oppose the use of foreign workers who contribute a great many skills, he emphasized: “When the need for those jobs are identified, Canadians should be trained to do those jobs in the future, that those skills be transferred to Canadians.”

Ostroski said the federal government should be funding more apprenticeship programs, “so that over a period of time Canadians can displace those temporary foreign workers.”

“This affects the future of our youth. We should be training Canadians for those needed skills,” adding this is a decades-long problem that needs fundamental change.

As bad as the problem is nation-wide, Ostroski did acknowledge Essar Steel Algoma and Tenaris Algoma Tubes for opening up some apprenticeships for homegrown Canadian workers in the past four years.

“To give credit to Essar and Tenaris, we have the most apprentices per capita in Canada, starting in electrical and mechanical apprenticeships.”

Still, Ostroski said there is a need for other skilled workers, such as bricklayers, and called on the senior levels of government to open up more seats for skilled trades training in community colleges.

“It’s about money.”

“We realize there are deficits, and governments have to spread what money they have around, but we’re asking for more training money where possible.”

Also of great concern, said USW Local 2251 Vice President and Grievance Committee Chair Mark Molinaro, are developments involving China.

Referring to an agreement made by the Harper government between Export Development Canada and China Development Bank (CDB) in February 2012, Molinaro said: “They (the CDB) lend money to governments and companies around the world at very attractive interest rates, but part of the deal is you have to use their companies to do the work and use their workers, working for cheaper.”

Noting that similar agreements with the CDB have affected the workplace in places as far apart as Greenland and Zimbabwe, Molinaro said: “It affects Sault Ste. Marie in that Essar is renegotiating their bank loans with the Chinese.”

“We have heard there are a lot of construction projects planned by Essar involving foreign workers.”

“We believe in the next four to six months, you are going to see that happening here, and the road has been paved by the Harper government.”


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