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Council criticizes temporary foreign worker program

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan -
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan
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Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan will be writing to the Royal Bank (RBC), the city's banker, strongly expressing concern about the company's use of temporary foreign workers.

Earlier this week, news reports stated the bank had outsourced work to a contractor, causing the layoffs of dozens of the bank's Canadian employees. The contractor in turn hired temporary foreign workers to do the work.

Coun. Dan Johnston, who made the letter motion, said he was "shocked" by the news.

"RBC, the largest bank in Canada, one of largest banks in the world, and the city's banker, should be operating better than that," Johnston said. "We should be sending them a letter showing our displeasure with this."

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal supported the motion but stressed that the real issue is not with the bank but with the federal government's temporary foreign worker program which he called "a sham."

Instead of being a source of labour for jobs that Canadians can't fill, the program has simply become a way for companies to cut costs, Dhaliwal said, noting foreign workers can legally be paid 15 per cent less than a Canadian would.

In some regions such workers are even being brought in to staff Tim Horton's restaurants, he said, and as soon as workers ask for benefits they are threatened with being sent back to their home countries.

Such work should be given to genuine immigrants who settle here and spend money here, Dhaliwal said.

The temporary foreign workers who do come often end up being treated poorly, a number of councillors said.

Those hired to help build the Canada Line were paid even less than the legal 15 per cent less, said Coun. Colleen Jordan. Those workers have been back home in Costa Rica for three years already and only recently settled out of court after the company fought their case demanding proper pay for years.

Coun. Paul McDonell recounted a story of foreign workers hired to build the Golden Ears Bridge in Maple Ridge who were paid the legal rate but were each charged $1,400 a month rent to live in an overcrowded company-supplied house.

"They weren't even getting minimum wage when they worked it out," McDonell said, stressing it's not the workers who are at fault.

RBC earned more than $2 billion in its last quarter. "That's not enough for a bank?" he said.

Corrigan recalled that Filipino workers were brought in by a contractor to build tunnels for the Seymour water filtration plant and ended up almost confined to their homes unless they were working.

He said jobs are hard to come by for First Nations, immigrants, and young adults just out of school, but foreign workers are brought in. The federal government brings refugees to Canada "but when they arrive they end up spending years on social assistance while jobs go to foreign workers."

It's a result of federal government policy and the efforts of corporate lobbyists, Corrigan said.

"We see what's going on and we're calling you on it."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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