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Labour group says foreign worker program problems extend beyond fast-food sector

EDMONTON - A labour group says it has evidence that problems with the federal temporary foreign worker program extend far beyond restaurants.

The Alberta Federation of Labour says records for 2012-2013 show 224 cases where businesses in the province paid foreign workers less than the prevailing wage rate.

The federation says these businesses included hotels, gas stations, casinos, convenience stores, greenhouses, feedlots and nurseries.

Federation president Gil McGowan says this shows the federal government is breaking its own rules.

McGowan says the government must scrap low-wage jobs from the program and suspend its use for medium to high-skilled workers pending an investigation by the auditor general.

He also says the man responsible for the program, Employment Minister Jason Kenney, should resign.

"Minister Kenney has now banned the use of temporary foreign workers in food services," McGowan said Friday. "But while the food service industry may be the worst offender, it is by no mean the only industry that has been using the program to displace Canadians and drive down wages."

McGowan said the federation's position is based on hundreds of pages of records obtained through federal access to information requests.

He said the federation looked at the wage rates the federal government used when issuing Labour Market Opinions to employers that wanted to hire temporary foreign workers.

It then compared those with the prevailing wage rates for specific jobs in Alberta.

McGowan said under the rules of the program, employers are not to pay foreign workers less than the prevailing rate for a specific job in a specific area.

Kenney banned restaurants from accessing the program Thursday a few hours after the C.D. Howe Institute released a damning study into the program that concluded it had spurred joblessness in B.C. and Alberta.

He has insisted only a small number of companies have abused the program.

Kenney said the government's decision to impose a moratorium on the program for food service workers is a message to employers across the country.

He said protecting Canadians and their access to available jobs is an obligation of the Canadian government and the decision to put that sector of the program on hold demonstrates that resolve.

The Canadian Press

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