Thursday August 21, 2014

Foreign workers case tests Sask. principles


Multis e gentibus vires — “From Many Peoples Strength.”

Most of you will recognize those words as Saskatchewan’s official motto emblazoned on our coat of arms.

It’s as good a motto as there is. Saskatchewan has truly drawn its strength from everyone who has come here and everyone who was here before the others came.

From the First Nations and Metis people who have inherited our land and our resources to the many, many immigrants who helped develop them we have learned two very important things.

We have learned to work and live together co-operatively. But we’ve learn the importance of being independent and entrepreneurial.

And while the two notions have often clashed in our politics, both have been needed. Both have contributed mightily to making us who we are.

From many people, we have gained this strength. And we are not done. Not by a long shot.

We have had many more people more people come here in the last 10 years and many of them are helping to renew our strength.

But while this is providing a new opportunity for both our province and our new arrivals, what should never be lost is the principle of fairness we’ve established in Saskatchewan over nearly 109 years of existence.

Of course, there is little time to ponder such heady notions in a growing and busy province. But maybe everyone once in a while it is important to take stock.

The recent issues over long-time, hard-working Saskatchewan people being replaced by temporary foreign workers has us now pondering such values … even if we don’t quite realize it.

At issue is the case of two Weyburn waitresses, Sandy Nelson and Shaunna Jennison-Yung, who both lost their jobs at Weyburn’s Brothers Classic Grill to foreign workers.

Nelson, 58-years-old, had worked at the restaurant for 28 years. Jennison-Yung had worked at the grill for 14 years. Both were laid off last month along with some of the temporary foreign workers hired through the federal program to cope with the lack of labour in the Weyburn area.

But while at least two of the temporary foreign workers were rehired, Nelson and Jennison-Yung were not.

The restaurant owners insist that they followed the rules of the program. That, however, hasn’t stopped Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s office from starting an investigation into whether or not the employers abused the program.

Clearly, this hot topic of debate has touched a nerve and some have gone as far as suggesting a boycott of Brother’s Classic Grill for their actions. Meanwhile, others are trying the use the case of Nelson and Jennison-Yung as a rally point to end the use of temporary foreign workers altogether.

Whether this is a completely rational response is as questionable as replacing these long-time taxpaying Canadian citizens with the temporary citizens.

As was the case 100 years ago when European settlers came to Saskatchewan to do the job of settling the province, many of these temporary workers are filling jobs others have been unwilling to fill.

Many have specialized skills and are winding up in areas like implement manufacturing because employers can’t find workers. Competing against the wages paid in the oil patch is not easy, nor is easy to attract other Saskatchewan residents to rural communities. Sometimes, temporary foreign workers are the only option.

And while not necessarily part of the federal program, Premier Brad Wall, city manufacturers and even city governments have all found it necessary to go abroad to seek everyone from welders to bus mechanics to nurses.

That said, the case of Nelson and Jennison-Yung shows us the dangers of simply opening the doors wide to anyone willing to work for less.

We need to take stock of what is fair and right.

From many people, strength. And our greatest strength is our fairness.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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