EDMONTON - The federal government has launched an investigation into claims that dozens of Canadian ironworkers were replaced with temporary foreign workers at an oilsands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta.
On Tuesday, the Alberta Federation of Labour voiced concerns that 65 ironworkers working for Pacer-Promec Joint Venture on Imperial Oil's Kearl Lake oilsands project were replaced by temporary foreign workers from Croatia.
Alberta Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said his ministry was informed on Thursday that federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has asked for an investigation into the allegations.
"The allegations are very concerning," said Lukaszuk on Friday. "Minister Kenney is reviewing this matter and then I will decide if there is any further need to get involved."
Lukaszuk said the temporary foreign worker program helps relieve Alberta's labour shortage, but only in job categories where the federal government is satisfied that no Canadians are ready to take the job.
"The first right of refusal for any job should always be offered to a Canadian, and in our case, an Albertan," he said. "The program is not to be considered a source of cheaper or more convenient workforce."
The AFL said the ironworkers would have been paid over $36 an hour, but the temporary foreign workers are being paid just $18 an hour for the same work.
Harry Tostowaryk, business manager for the Ironworkers Local 720 union, said Pacer-Promec first cancelled a call for two dozen ironworkers on Monday.
"Then on Tuesday, roughly 65 guys working on site were all brought into the lunchroom at 3:00 p.m. and management informed them that every one of them was getting laid off. No explanation or nothing," said Tostowaryk.
"We had a meeting the next morning and through our agents we confirmed that they had a whole bunch of Croatians going through training and replacing them to do their jobs."
AFL President Gil McGowan said the temporary foreign worker program is often abused by employers and was designed "to undercut Canadians."
"Increasingly— instead of being filled by Canadians — jobs are being given to temporary foreign workers earning as little as half the prevailing wage," he said.
The company is a joint venture between Alberta-based Pacer and a Quebec-based Promec. Pacer was established in 1996 and currently has $277 million in projects underway.
The Kearl Oilsands Project is an oilsands mine near Kearl Lake in the Athabasca Oil Sands region roughly 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.