05/09/2014 01:21 EDT | Updated 07/09/2014 05:59 EDT

New CLC president warns Harper that labour movement will be more aggressive

MONTREAL - The new tough-talking president of the Canadian Labour Congress has served notice he won't go easy on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and will be more aggressive than his predecessor.

Hassan Yussuff defeated the long-serving Ken Georgetti in a vote at a week-long CLC convention that ended Friday.

Yussuff warned that Harper will face the fury of the union movement if it feels forced to push back against Conservative policy.

"I think the prime minister needs to know that this labour movement is not going to sit idly by anymore and watch him continue to destroy the things that we've worked so hard to build in this country," Yussuff told The Canadian Press on Friday.

"If we have to mobilize to challenge him and, of course push back at many levels, I think he is going to feel the wrath of the labour movement."

Yussuff, 57, offered to work collaboratively with any government, but he is not optimistic when it comes to Harper.

"I think our prime minister has demonstrated time and time again that he has very little regard for sitting down with the labour movement and having conversations about how we can work with each other," he said.

He noted that over 18 months the government has tabled back-to-work legislation more frequently "than any other government in the history of the country."

Yussuff said the union movement will do everything it can to ensure the Conservatives are not re-elected next year if they continue in the direction they are headed.

"More importantly (we) want to ensure there is a government that will respect workers and work with the labour movement to grow the economy and provide prosperity for everyone."

After Yussuff's election on Thursday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney congratulated him on Twitter and thanked Georgetti for his service.

In an email to The Canadian Press on Friday, the federal minister said he would continue to be available to the CLC and its new leader.

"Minister Kenney is very accessible and meets with unions regularly on a wide range of issues," it read. "This will not change."

Yussuff also attacked the Conservative government's temporary foreign workers program which he said took up a "huge amount time" at the CLC convention.

Under the controversial program, thousands of companies have been allowed to hire temporary foreign workers after failing to find suitable Canadian alternatives.

"There is a clear indication within our movement (that) we need to bring in more immigrants to the country to become citizens, to build communities," Yussuff said.

"We don't bring them in and treat them like somehow that they have no place in our society."

He admitted there are minor worker shortages in Canada, but added that the program is part of a low-wage strategy by the federal government to exploit workers and provide them with little or no protection.

Yussuff has also promised to be more engaged and aggressive than Georgetti, who had been president since 1999.

"I've said very candidly that we have been sitting on our hands for far too long," Yussuff said. "I think there is a grassroots movement that feels they've been neglected."

The labour organization said Yussuff was the first person of colour to be elected to an executive position when he became executive vice-president in 1999.

But he said his election on Thursday was more than just symbolic, noting that both Canada and the labour movement have been changing.

"If you look at the demographic shift, it's absolutely incredible and I think it's critical in the context of an organization that represents many facets of Canadian society (and) the CLC should reflect that," Yussuff said.

"I think I bring an image that people are quite excited to embrace."

Yussuff was born in Guyana, South America, and settled in Toronto when he came to Canada in 1974.

The Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3.3 million workers, brings together national and international unions as well as provincial and territorial federations of labour and 111 district labour councils.