Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Employment & Labour

Foreign worker case shows tensions in Canadian market

Arthur Zeilikman
A British Columbia case brought by two labour unions against a mining company that hired a number of temporary foreign workers is evidence of the tensions inherent in the Canadian economy, says Toronto labour and employment lawyer Arthur Zeilikman.

According to reports, HD Mining International says it hired more than 200 workers from China for its B.C. coal mine because the Canadians who applied for the jobs weren't qualified. The unions argue that the company hired temporary foreign workers for jobs Canadians could have filled. The case is now before the Federal Court. Read CBC News 

“On one hand, the free market and the globalized nature of world economy allows employers in Canada to hire qualified employees from abroad. On the other hand, Canada’s labour force is often subject to governmental regulatory interference and for a good reason. Precisely because the world is so globalized, prioritizing job security for qualified Canadian employees is paramount. The question, of course, is what if there are no qualified employees?” asks Zeilikman.

The balancing of local interests, he explains, is a delicate matter. “Imagine a company that wishes to invite highly qualified engineers from abroad who will contribute greatly to Ontario’s high tech industry, which would in turn animate Ontario’s (and Canada’s) economy? The tradeoff is that local jobs will be given to foreign employees but the long-term economic ramifications may be worth it. In my opinion, there is no “magic pill,” especially in volatile markets that require regulatory flexibility,” he explains.

Normally, employers seeking to hire foreign workers require approval from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, he says, usually by obtaining a Labour Market Opinion, which shows that the employer tried but was unable to recruit Canadian employees and requires employees from abroad.

“In short, and unless exemptions apply, the following steps are taken: If an employer wants to hire a temporary foreign worker from abroad, the employer has to show that it made efforts to recruit Canadian employees. It must then apply for a Labour Market Opinion and have the foreign worker complete a work permit application. The work permit will then be issued at a port of entry,” he notes.

Zeilikman says employers should also know that foreign workers are entitled to the same rights as local employees.

“Employers hiring employees from abroad should not act under the assumption that they would be able to “economize” on their human resources investment by paying lesser wages or subjecting foreign employees to working conditions that do not meet the standards of provincial and federal laws,” he explains.

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