OTTAWA — The union representing civilian sailors is expanding its legal fight over the temporary foreign workers program, naming two federal cabinet ministers in two additional lawsuits filed in the Federal Court.
A week ago, the Seafarers International Union of Canada asked a judge in Vancouver to review the temporary worker permits granted to foreign sailors on international ships that operated in Canadian waters this summer.
In its initial legal salvo, the union filed 16 applications for judicial reviews of the cases of individual sailors.
The new cases, filed late Tuesday, single out Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
The union says it has written to both ministers and has not received any response. It is targeting Immigration Canada because the policy on temporary foreign workers rests with that department.
Canada Border Services Agency, which issues the permits, falls under Public Safety.
The head of the union claims the Harper government continues to misuse its authority in granting temporary foreign work permits to crew members from other countries.
“Qualified Canadian maritime workers have lost more than two thousand jobs,” said Seafarers union president Jim Given, in a statement. “They have been replaced by temporary foreign workers earning just $2 an hour.”
Employment contracts for crew members on foreign tankers, obtained last week by The Canadian Press, show they are required to work a minimum of 48 hours a week before overtime kicks in, and that the rate varies between $2 and $8 per hour.
By law, foreign-flagged ships can operate between ports in Canadian coastal water as long as they use domestic crews, but the union says the federal government has increasingly given shipping companies a free pass.
Canada’s controversial temporary foreign workers program was given a facelift earlier this year. The program mandates labour market assessments that demonstrate no Canadians were available to take the jobs.
To get around the labour assessment, the government grants a waiver claiming, among others things, that there is significant economic benefit to Canada.
The first round of court challenges involved the Cypriot-flagged tanker Sparto, which operated between Canadian ports on the East Coast in August. The latest filings are journeys taken by Greek tanker Amalthea, which transported oil on the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Atlantic Canada in August, and the New England, a chemical tanker that sailed in the Maritimes last week.
The union estimates that roughly 4,000 temporary foreign work permits have been issued by the federal government for domestic shipping despite an unemployment rate of 25 per cent among Canadian maritime workers.
Immigration Canada declined comment when the first court action was filed, and no one was immediately available to talk about the latest development.
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press