Two unions say the Canadian government did not fulfill its obligations to out-of-work Canadians before approving an Edmonton-based construction company's application to bring temporary foreign workers to a Winnipeg job site.

Documents obtained by the Manitoba Building and Construction Trades Council through an access to information request show that last year, Pagnotta Industries applied to hire a senior construction superintendent and 15 form-work carpenters from the United States and Ireland.

As part of its application, Pagnotta told Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) it had looked for Canadians to fill the positions, but it was unsuccessful.

The Manitoba Carpenters' Union and the building trades council said they had scores of qualified members looking for work at the time the applications were filed, and they don't understand why HRSDC approved Pagnotta Industries' application to hire temporary foreign workers.

"The fact that I have 37 people on the list actively looking for work tells me they didn't look hard enough or maybe look at all," said John Reczek, the carpenters' union's regional manager.

When asked why Pagnotta would look outside of Canada, when union members are willing to work, Victor Da Silva of the Construction and Specialized Workers Union said he believes the company wants to prevent organized labour from accessing its job site.

Pagnotta Industries president Alex Pagnotta told CBC News, "If there are qualified workers [in Manitoba], they can come to the site and I will hire them on the spot."

Looking for Canadians

As part of its application to hire the temporary foreign workers, Pagnotta Industries had to provide examples of advertisements for the available positions.

The examples included a print advertisement in the Edmonton Journal, two trade shows in Edmonton, and online ads placed through a website called TheResumator.com.

Advertising rules posted on the HRSDC website show that the print ad and the trade shows happened either too early or too late to be considered for the application.

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Victor Da Silva of the Construction and Specialized Workers Union says he believes Pagnotta Industries wants to prevent organized labour from accessing its job site. (CBC)

A spokesperson for the TheResumator.com said its service is geared towards the high-tech industry and would not be an ideal place to find construction workers in Canada.

CBC News asked Alex Pagnotta where else his company tried to find Canadian workers before turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

"We did advertise," Pagnotta replied. "I don't know exactly where. I am not involved in those details of our business."

Pagnotta declined a request from CBC News to speak to someone from the company who was familiar with how the positions were advertised.

Before ending the interview, Pagnotta said HRSDC recently audited his applications and had no issues with how the company advertised the positions.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada declined an interview request, but spokesperson Jan O'Driscoll said in a phone call that the department was satisfied with Pagnotta Industries' Canadian recruiting efforts.

The government is "taking action to reform the Temporary Foreign Worker program," O'Driscoll later added in an email.

But human resources experts question the company's recruiting methods.

"The normal way you hire construction workers, and a lot of other workers, is by working the network," said Sean MacDonald, an instructor at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business.

"In many cases, 40 to 50 per cent of your new hires come from who you know."

New arrivals

Workers on the construction site said Pagnotta has a strict policy forbidding its workers from speaking to the media.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one worker said four or five new temporary foreign workers arrived on the job site late last week, this time from Colombia.

The worker said the Colombian workers were previously employed by Pagnotta Industries on sites in Saskatchewan.

Calls to Pagnotta Industries about the new foreign workers were not immediately returned.