Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Airport contractor rapped for using foreign workers

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Foreign workers are being flown in to do basic construction work on one of Winnipeg's biggest projects at the expense of local tradesmen, according to NDP MP Pat Martin.

He is filing complaints with the federal ministries of Human Resources and Immigration, demanding the foreign workers be sent home so Manitobans can build the Winnipeg airport and keep the benefits in the province.

"They are from Russia, Latvia, Poland, the Ukraine... We're not going to take this lying down. It's a rare thing to have such a nice construction project in the city of Winnipeg and it's a very good thing for the skilled trades and the local industry," said Martin, who represents the Winnipeg Centre riding.

"There is no justification to give these jobs away to foreign workers."

Under the federal government's Temporary Foreign Worker program -- designed to help address labour shortages -- a company must demonstrate it tried to recruit locally before filling a position with a foreign worker.

"We have all of these programs to try and get young aboriginal people through these training programs and then they sit on their butts while these foreign workers eat their lunch," Martin said.

"It's infuriating."

Wayne McLennan, the local business agent for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters union, confirmed the jobs the foreign workers are doing at the airport could be filled by local workers.

"There are people who have been living here, paying taxes, going through apprenticeships, following guidelines, getting certified, there are people looking for work," McLennan said. "If there's a cost to bring them (the foreign workers) here, why couldn't they bring someone in from Split Lake or Portage -- any number of places?"

Raid Raphael Kassis, president of Reemaco, said he advertised the work first through the Canada Job Bank and newspapers, and then went through the proper government channels.

He said he has approvals for 36 foreign workers to be on the Winnipeg airport site.

Currently, about 23 are working. He wouldn't say where the workers came from, but insisted they were skilled carpenters.

"It doesn't matter (where they are from), you can recruit good people that are ready for the the job, whether they are from India or Russia... The embassies in the countries also do their homework," he said.

Ian McKie, operations manager with Ellis Don in Ottawa, the construction company that subcontracted the work to Reemaco, said they wouldn't have brought Reemaco in on the job if they didn't have the required work permits.

"Mr. Martin is indicating he's attempting to have him (Reemaco) revoked; well, that's his business, but he'll have to do that through proper channels and we're not one of them. We didn't issue the work permits, the federal government did. I don't imagine they issue those lightly," McKie said

Jason Bouzanis, a spokesman for federal Human Resources, said he couldn't provide any information related to Reemaco for privacy reasons. He told the Free Press an access to information request would have to be filed to get specific information on the company.

"I can assure you, if someone received a labour market opinion... the process is designed to ensure that all of those criteria are being met," Bouzanis said. "If we issue a positive opinion, the employer brings it to CIC and then from there, the employer works with Citizen and Immigration Canada to bring the employee in."

Construction industry officials acknowledge that some of the airport work has taken longer than anticipated, but not so much that it will have an impact on the cost of the project.

"Are there issues when you build a project like this? Absolutely," said Barry Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

He said soil conditions affected some foundation pilings, but they were replaced and it did not hold up the delivery and erection of steel framing.

He said the building is still expected to be delivered and commissioned some time in 2010, within the original time frame.

-- With files from Martin Cash

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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