04/09/2013 23:26 EDT | Updated 06/09/2013 05:12 EDT

B.C. too reliant on foreign workers, labour groups say

Labour groups in British Columbia say a range of industries in the province are growing increasingly reliant on a federal program to bring in temporary foreign workers.

B.C. has 74,000 temporary foreign workers, the second-largest number in Canada behind Ontario.

"They're being used in construction, they're being used in farming. They're being used in every sector of the economy now because employers are figuring out, boy it’s really fast and really cheap, and that's wrong," said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

This week, a CBC Go Public investigation revealed RBC is replacing 45 employees with temporary foreign workers at the end of the month. iGATE Corporation, a multinational outsourcing firm from India, employs the foreign workers.

And on Tuesday, a Federal Court in Vancouver began examining a mining company's application to bring in temporary foreign workers from China.

HD Mining International says it hired 201 workers from China for its coal mine in northeastern B.C. because the 300 Canadians who applied for the jobs weren't qualified.

Two labour unions argue that HD Mining hired temporary foreign workers for jobs Canadians could have filled.

Brian Cochrane, spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers, said he hopes the case will lead to a complete overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program by the federal government.

"I think this is going to give us a chance to look under the hood of the whole temporary foreign worker program," Cochrane said.

"Really there's been no substance from the federal government so far … they we really need to get under there and take a look and make the changes necessary to protect Canadians."

In an e-mailed statement, B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell told CBC News that without new immigrants, B.C. would not be able to meet labour market demands.

"Over the next 10 years, retirements and economic growth will leave us looking to fill almost one million job openings," he said, adding that at B.C.’s local ski hills, the number one source country for temporary foreign workers is Australia.

"But regardless of where we source temporary foreign workers, the program itself is under federal government jurisdiction," Bell said.

"And as such, the federal government is responsible for determining whether labour market conditions warrant bringing temporary foreign workers to work in Canada."

While the temporary foreign worker program is regulated by the federal government, immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said provincial governments could better scrutinize the program.

"The provinces can pick up the ball and control the flow of foreign workers," he said.

In the past five years, the number of temporary foreign workers in B.C. has increased by 16,000.