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House of Commons - Debate on Bill-38 - temporary foreign workers

Date

2012-06-12

Authors

Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NPD)

Full text

Mr. Speaker, it is with legitimate indignation that I rise today to denounce the infamous Bill C-38, the budget implementation bill.
With this bill, we get the feeling that the Conservatives decided that Parliament was an open bar and attacked social programs, government, workers and families. It is a catch-all bill, a bulldozer bill, a Trojan Horse. Finally, this is an anti-worker, anti-environment and anti-family bill that does not respect our democratic institutions, that attacks key rights, and that attacks the least fortunate and lowest-income seniors in our society.
It is a catch-all bill. We feel that the Conservatives are taking a shot at everything that works and are taking advantage of the fact that they have a majority to destroy things that have been working well in our society. Based on where they are heading, everything will go to the private sector. Assessing environmental impact is not important. As long as there is development, everything is fine, and future generations will pick up the pieces. They will have to carry this economic debt, as well as this environmental debt on their shoulders.
This is unprecedented in Canadian political history. Officially, this is a budget implementation bill, but it changes no fewer than 70 existing pieces of legislation. The Conservatives are taking a shot at everything that moves.
In addition, the Conservatives imposed a gag order—in fact, it was the 23rd or 24th gag order. Members are not even being given much time to discuss this bill. The government is refusing to split up this bill, which is creating a completely absurd situation.
The NDP proposed having five bills instead of one single mammoth, gigantic and unmanageable bill, which was reasonable. For example, since this is officially a budget implementation bill, but it changes standards for protecting fish habitats, it is the members of the Standing Committee on Finance who are required to study the changes to the regulations on protecting fish habitats. Has anyone ever heard of anything so ludicrous or absurd?
Every decision made in this bill probably deserves days of study. The list of things that the government wants to change is impressive. The bill is supposedly for implementing the budget, but it is being used to destroy and attack a bunch of things that help workers and Canadian families. I am going to try to explain why.
Bill C-38 increases the age of eligibility for old age security and guaranteed income supplement benefits from 65 to 67. We remember that the Prime Minister took advantage of a trip to Davos, Switzerland, to announce these changes in front of his billionaire friends. But one year earlier, he had not even told Canadians that he was going to attack our seniors' old age pensions.
Bill C-38 repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, weakens the environmental assessment regimes, eliminates the Auditor General's oversight authority for a certain number of agencies and amends the Employment Equity Act so that it no longer applies to federal contracts. In addition, it dissolves the Public Appointments Commission, reduces transparency with respect to the assessment of major pipeline projects and puts more power in the hands of a single minister. Bill C-38 also dissolves the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which was working well. Lastly, it eliminates the First Nations Statistical Institute.
So we can see the extent of what is in this mammoth bill, this Trojan Horse bill.
There is one more important matter that I would like to address. The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act has also been amended. That act guaranteed minimum salaries, base salaries for workers on federal construction sites. Let me give you some examples. In Vancouver, an electrician could not be paid less than $26.20 per hour; a carpenter, $25.19 per hour. In Calgary, an electrician was paid at least $30 per hour and a steel assembler $24.12 per hour. It guaranteed working conditions, and therefore acceptable living conditions, for workers on those sites. The Conservatives are taking the act, tearing it up and telling employers that, from now on, they can pay their employees what they want. There are no more base salaries, no more minimums.
(1700)

This very ideological and right-leaning Conservative government is constantly making decisions that put downward pressure on salaries. How are the Conservatives going to get the economy going again? By cutting salaries. This is a race to the bottom. This is how they want to build the future, to build a society that is fairer, more just, more united and more decent, a society in which people can live a good life.
When my father bought his house, it was worth twice his annual salary, the only salary. Today, houses cost 10 or 15 times an annual salary. The purchasing power of workers has either stagnated since the late 1970s or become worse. These Conservative and neo-Liberal policies are putting pressure on the salaries of workers, who still have to pay the bills and whose standard of living is not rising.
A family today cannot live on one salary alone. How is it possible that, in a society like ours, people working for minimum wage are below the poverty line? Is that really the kind of society we want to live in? It certainly is the kind of society that the Conservatives want to live in. On the Island of Montreal alone, the number of people asking for food assistance because they lack the means to put bread on the table has increased more than 40% since 2008.
The Conservatives may laugh, but in real life, it matters. In my constituency, 2,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing. What does Bill C-38 say about social housing? Nothing. Zero. Nada. There is nothing in this budget about helping people who are having difficulty paying their rent. When rent takes 50% of people's income, we have a problem. A problem that keeps people in poverty.
It is interesting that the word poverty does not appear in the nearly 300-page budget that the Minister of Finance tabled. That is one of the Conservatives' tricks. If they do not talk about it, then it does not really exist. I am sorry, but that is not how things work. There is no magic wand that makes poverty disappear just because we do not talk about it. There is nothing in this budget, in Bill C-38, to help fight poverty, on the contrary.
I now want to address the issue of temporary foreign workers. That is another example. I have talked about the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. What is in Bill C-38 for temporary foreign workers? Under this bill, temporary foreign workers can be paid 15% less than other workers for the same work. This is just more of the same Conservative policy to put downward pressure on the incomes of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, the coordinator of a branch of CERIUM, the centre for international studies and research at Université de Montréal, said:
Temporary foreign workers, whose employment contracts are already being violated because of administrative restrictions on their fundamental freedoms, will now be subject to a new discriminatory measure.
According to the administrative directive posted online on April 25, 2012, by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for temporary foreign workers in Canada with “high-skill” occupations, wages that are up to 15% below the average wage for an occupation in a specific region will be accepted. Various observers have said that this federal measure will ultimately contribute to an overall reduction in wages in Canada...
The constitutionality of this new federal Conservative measure will inevitably be challenged sooner or later in court. This measure is a concrete example of the government violating the right of a historically disadvantaged group—immigrant workers in this case—to be free from discrimination.
Furthermore, André Jacob, coordinator of the Observatoire international sur le racisme et les discriminations and an associate professor at the UQAM school of social work, said:
The argument that the local labour force does not want to do the work for which employers use foreign labour is a false premise. In fact, Canadians do not want to comply with the conditions imposed by companies that favour temporary foreign workers [because they work in horrible conditions]. Businesses want to be able to count on a low-cost workforce that is available at all times, submissive, non-unionized and [basically] without rights.
...The temporary foreign workforce is not a cargo of exotic products that can be purchased and sold with only profit in mind. These are human beings with rights. It should not be up to private businesses to protect the rights of all workers; it is the responsibility of the state.
We see the same thing with employment insurance reform. The government is pushing wages down and wants to force seasonal workers to accept jobs with wages 30% lower than what they earned before. The NDP will fight this Conservative government because we want people to be able to live with dignity.

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Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations - general, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing, Dancers, and Other

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Policymakers, Journalists, and Public awareness

Regulation domains

Right to change employer, Right to choose place of residence, Access to permanent status, and Determination fair wages and labour shortage

Spheres of activity

Law and Political science

Languages

French and English