SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Pat Romanski, Jnan Dash, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Nikita Ivanov

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Company Promises to Hire Canadians After Being Caught Using TFWs to Replace Domestic Iron Workers

TFWs will be moved to another project, but it remains unclear if fired Canadians will get their jobs back

EDMONTON, ALBERTA -- (Marketwired) -- 02/08/14 -- The company involved in a TFW scandal on Imperial Oil's Kearle Lake site has admitted that it fired Canadian iron workers and replaced them with TFWs.

In a statement released to media this afternoon, the company, Pacer-Promec Joint Ventures, said it would move the TFWs to another site and commit to hiring Canadians - but stopped short of saying they would offer the jobs to the Canadians who had been fired in the first place.

"At first blush, this looked like a clear victory for the fired Canadians workers," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said. "But Pacer-Promec has not contacted the union or the fired workers with an offer to come back to work. Something still smells pretty fishy here."

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, 65 Canadian workers employed by Pacer-Promec Joint Ventures were given their pink slips, and they were replaced by Temporary Foreign Workers. When the firings came to light, the ensuing public outrage forced the government to announce an investigation. Late Friday afternoon, the company issued a press release that included an apology and a promise to hire Canadians.

"The news statement from the company is certainly a step in a more positive direction, but the story should not end here," McGowan said. "The Canadian workers have still not been offered their jobs back. And, even more importantly, this is not an isolated incident. This is not a case of a rogue employer breaking the rules. The real problem is with the rules themselves. Specifically, a new stream in the TFW program allows employers in Alberta's construction industry to hire TFWs without first looking for Canadians. As long as this new stream remains in place, Canadian tradespeople will continue to face the prospect of being replaced by or passed over for TFWs."

In October, more than 300 workers at Husky Energy's Sunrise Oilsands Project were let go. In some cases, they were forced to train the Temporary Foreign Workers who were replacing them. The Alberta Federation of Labour has been a leader in bringing abuses of this program to light.

"More and more Canadians are going public, and letting the country know the extent to which the Temporary Foreign Worker program is undermining job security, undermining wages, and exploiting disadvantaged workers," McGowan said.

Even with Pacer-Promec's promise to rehire Canadian workers, McGowan says many important questions remain.

"The company says they will move the TFWs to another work site. Will these TFWs fill jobs on that site that would have otherwise been available to Canadians? Will they still be paid half the wage of Canadian workers? Perhaps most importantly, will the companies involved face any consequences? Will they be fined? Will they lose their right to bring TFWs into the country? Canadians deserve answers to these questions?"

The Harper government has made such a mess of the TFW program that experts say a full investigation by an impartial third party is warranted.

"The Harper government created this monster, they can't be trusted to tame it," McGowan said. "Canadians deserve a royal commission on the economic, social and cultural impact of this program. It morally diminishes us as a country to have a program that creates a disenfranchised underclass of non-citizen workers."

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