Visas for Temporary Workers are a Huge Issue…in Canada

 Calgary    Walking this morning, light snow was still sticking to the embankments along the curbside and puddles had a thin sheet ice, as spring was coming late to the northern Rockies.  Calgary continues to be an oil rich boomtown with population now surpassing a million people with low unemployment throughout the province of Alberta, the red state, Texas of Canada.   But, where the US is torn over the issues of visas for foreign workers, the Canadian debate on the issue has achieved a surprising consensus from the right to the left on jobs both high skilled and service sector, that puts a huge priority on protecting jobs for Canadians first and assuring that foreign work visas are receiving close to prevailing wages on all jobs and not displacing local workers.

The front pages of the very conservative national paper, National Post, had an extensive article on the national apology written “to all Canadians” by the CEO of the giant Canadian banking conglomerate, RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, replying to accusations that RBC had “outsourced” 40 jobs overseas.  The apology was even more unusual in that the company may have not outsourced at all, but simply transferred the workers elsewhere in the company.  Regardless, the notion that a huge bank or business of any kind in the United States would apologize for outsourcing makes this remarkable in and of itself.

At the same time the national restaurant association was having to offer a weak defense of its need for foreign visa workers largely on the basis that unemployment is so low in Alberta that they cannot recruit enough Canadians to work in the lower paid service industry.  The deal on prevailing wages allegedly struck in the United States, as an immigration bill moves forward, is already somewhat in place in Canada, since foreign workers cannot be paid at a variance of any more than 15% of the prevailing wage for these jobs.  The notion that wages might have to be increased to attract more workers still seems unpopular with businesses in Canada just as it is everywhere in the world.

Politicians and business leaders are walking a tightrope now in Canada that may foretell the future someday in the United States, especially if some level of equity becomes a more consensual political principle in our politics.  Stephen Harper, the ultra-conservative, Bush-like, Canadian premier has been forced to weigh in on the side of job protection and even expresses concern over temporary worker visas being misused.  Canada already has a controversial farm labor, bracero program that ACORN Canada has correctly critiqued for its exploitation of remittances from these workers, and this is the very topic being debated in the United States as growers and the United Farm Workers try to strike a deal for a future immigration reform bill.

Labor in the United States may have finally reconciled its positions by moving past the longtime Achilles heel of the movement to now favor immigrants and their rights as well as be in favor of domestic first-hire preferences, living and prevailing wages and rights.  In Canada the farm labor and temporary visa program seem to have problems but this kind of reconciliation by all parties seems to make these issues resolvable rather than divisive wedge issues as they have been in the United States for decades.

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Canada Leads the Way in Demanding Remittance Regulations!

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011- 2New Orleans By late Tuesday night the last report was in from Vancouver putting a cap on actions across Canada in Hamilton, Toronto, and Ottawa in freezing and rainy weather as ACORN Canada (www.acorncanada.org) members stepped out to demand of federal authorities in Ottawa and provincial administrators in Ontario and British Columbia that the costs of remittances simply had to be regulated to put a stop to predatory pricing.  The actions were widely covered on Global TV, Chinese and other language papers, the Metro Ottawa with a front page picture, and as far away as The Fast Forward Weekly in Calgary.  Migrant and immigrant workers and families understand that this issue is huge, costly, and demands immediate resolution.  (Details in the reports posted at www.acorninternational.org entitled Past Time for Remittance Justice and the supplemental report, Looking the Other Way:  The Absence of Remittance Regulation)

Importantly in Vancouver there was a commitment from the chief staff person in the Finance Ministry to meet directly with ACORN Canada leaders to see what needed to be done to vet the issue and move forward.  With a new Premier taking office this week, members are crossing their fingers that they might actually be heard on this huge issue dealing with money transfer organizations like Western Union, MoneyGram, and others.

Members in Toronto were literally locked out in the cold by police at the behest of the provincial government in Ontario at Queen’s Park.  There seems to me more interest in the Hollywood concept of The King’s Speech than in Queen’s Park listening!  Police and bureaucrats claimed the demand to meet with the Minister of Finance and present an “unauthorized” letter was past the pale, forcing the members with flags, bullhorns, and chanting to call out to supporters passing by and post the letter to the minister from in front of the government’s own building.  “Hey,” politicians seem to be saying in Ontario, “what do we care about the problems of a bunch of new Canadian immigrants?”  Indeed!

DSCN0764The report from ACORN Ottawa head organizer, Jill O’Reilly, elegantly and concisely describes what nearly 30 members faced at the federal level in pressing the demands:
“CUPW joined us with their national president. SEIU Canada local 2 staff joined us as well
We got press in Ottawa Metro, major free daily paper. We got local press in the Ottawa EMC, which publishes Thursday.

Leaders Michelle Walrond and Adrian Profitos went up with no trouble to commissioner’s office Ursula Menke at the FCAC. She wasn’t in or the deputy commissioner. So we spoke with their media relations person who tried to shove us off to the minister’s office. But members stayed firm and they promised us a meeting and to look at our info. We asked them to pass on the message to Ursula and her office that she needs to recommend a 5% cap on banks for remittance fees to the minister, etc.

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011 - 1 The woman we dealt with was a little shaky and the press came up and took some good shots. the building management called the cops on top of the cops I already spoke with this AM. We turned out approx 11 cops. who were super nice and pissed that the building management called in more of them when we already notified them.”

All in a day’s work as other countries in the ACORN International federation also move to step forward with the same demand in the seven other countries where our members face the same issues.

Another step forward, as momentum continues to build around the world for remittance justice and it becomes clear there’s no stopping us now!

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