A Manitoba labour group is raising its eyebrows at news that the federal government is putting the temporary foreign worker program under the microscope after complaints about one B.C. mine.
"All the problems in the temporary foreign worker program are systemic," said Diwa Marcelino, program co-ordinator for Migrante Manitoba, which advocates for Filipino foreign workers.
Problems with the program are the federal government's creation, he said.
"The problems are built into the system, like the 15 per cent reduction in wages," he said.
The federal government has changed the rules to allow employers to pay skilled foreign workers up to 15 per cent less.
"They're proposing systemic exploitation," said Marcelino. "It's ironic that they're critiquing a program that's working as intended."
In B.C., labour groups filed a court action to block permits for Chinese workers at a Chinese-backed coal mine in the province's north. There have been concerns about the safety of the workers, their being illegally charged recruitment fees and whether efforts were made to recruit Canadian workers. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Thursday the government is looking into the program.
In Manitoba, temporary foreign workers have helped out during genuine labour shortages.
"When Maple Leaf came to Brandon, they tried to utilize the domestic work force," said Blake Crothers, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832. "It didn't work out."
The union that represents hundreds of hog plant workers negotiated with the company to protect foreign workers brought in to deal with the shortage, Crothers said.
The number of temporary foreign workers in Manitoba:
2007 - 4,508
2008 - 5,302
2009 - 5,570
2010 - 5,052
2012 - 4,922
In Winnipeg, their numbers have risen since 2007 when there were 2,496 to 2011 when there were 2,787. In Brandon, the number of temporary foreign workers has fallen from 475 in 2007 to 179 in 2011.
Canada's top five sources of foreign workers in 2011:
United States 35,637
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada