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Union brings in foreign workers




Jeremy Loome


An Alberta union decided to help the temporary foreign workers by taking the place of the "agent" who recruits them. It want to protect them from eventually dishonest brokers.

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The Edmonton Sun

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Frustrated over a flood of reports of new arrivals to Canada being taken advantage of, an Albertan union local has stepped in as a middleman to recruit temporary foreign workers.

It's a move that might shock those familiar with the trade- union line on the issue: Albertans should get jobs first and Canadians second.

But they're also acutely aware that the labour shortage and temporary foreign workers are reality.

By acting as the "agent" who recruits the workers overseas - in co-operation with unions there - it can cut out brokerages who take advantage of workers by charging exorbitant illegal fees and sometimes leaving them without work, said Boilemakers businness agent Morgan Fedak.

"We've brought one group in already and we're looking at another group in August," Fedak said, adding the Boilemakers want other large pro-worker unions to mirror the initiative.

"We have a network in Canada and the U.S. that keeps in touch with trade unions in other parts of the world - western Europe, England, South America. We,re all hooked up together.

"And we've decided we prefer to deal with unions that are not-for-profit and there to protect workers' rights than with labour brokers who are in the business of trading people," Fedak said.

The union fills the broker's role by putting out the word to affiliated and associated locals in other countries that have worker surpluses, then going through the required bureaucratic red tape to get them here.

"Certainly, not all labour brokers are dishonest," said Fedak, whose union helped bail out a few East Indian workers stuck in Canada last month.

"But we've seen the impact of the ones who are, and there's a definite odour around the entire business of trading people.

"The biggest benefit of doing it this way is that everyone knows who we're getting: we're assimilating people into our workforce who have the same expertise, training and workplace ideology as the people who would do the job if we didn't have a shortage."

The program is run federally, with co-operation from the provinces. Alberta is working with the federal government on making the program as efficient and effective here as possible and will likely have a new agreement in place by this fall, a spokeman said.

The union is taking on the kind of protective role that should fall to government, said New Democrat MLA Ray Martin.

"The ideal situation would be to not have this program at all but instead to have Albertans first and Canadians secondly filling these jobs or being trained for them," Martin said.

"But as long as they are going to use these foreign workers, there has to be a government role in protecting them. Legitimate union workers have rights and decent wages, are extremely well trained and have an enviable safety record. So this idea is better than the alternative."


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