Common Sense - Please Prevail
Week after week, we all read the headlines proclaiming the high employment and high rates of growth right here in our province.
Because much of it has centred around building, the entire construction industry is in a panic to find workers. Contractors and developers are desperate to keep the sky rocketing costs of their projects under control – and that means finding workers now, before delays push the prices of materials even further into the stratosphere.
However, with the squeeze on the supply side has come a call from some construction projects that the federal government allow them to bring in foreign workers to help fill the needs.
In some countries, foreign workers are a huge and accepted part of the working mix. In countries like United Arab Emirates, they make up 90% of the workforce.
Some have very skilled positions, like engineer or scientist, but most spend hard hours providing the heavy labour for both day-to-day activities and huge construction projects.
Having up to 90% of a country’s workforce from abroad makes for an uneasy social framework, especially in a nation not renowned for its progressive labour policy. It’s not a model that one would want to emulate.
But back here at home, we can’t forget that some of the construction industry is in a bind.
A good example of this is the $1 Billion Golden Ears Bridge project spanning the North Fraser between Langley and Maple Ridge. It is the largest bridge built in the congested Lower Mainland since the Alex Fraser.
Replacing the archaic Albion Ferry which has operated since 1957, the bridge is scheduled to open in 2009 – if the builders can come up with the 6500 person years needed for construction.
The Federal Government in Canada has strict rules around hiring foreign workers. First of all, employers need to apply and demonstrate a real labour shortage. The job needs to be comparable in terms of benefits, wages and working conditions to those that a Canadian would receive. And, of course, provincial Employment Standards apply.
The labour movement in BC hates the idea that companies, scrambling to complete work under budget with taxpayers money are able to look outside the province for workers. The reality is in boom times we still need to get the job done. If there aren’t workers here who can do the work, it’s not a crime to bring some into the country to cover the gap.
Of course, we need to ensure they are looked after properly – just as we need to ensure they aren’t undercutting our home grown talent.
When economists are predicting that labour shortages could soon start hindering growth, we need to start thinking creatively about ensuring our necessary capital projects don’t lose out in the construction boom.
As seen today in 24 Hours