Immigration Minister Jason Kenney continues to remove barriers to ensure Alberta's oilsands and construction industries have access to the skilled tradespeople they need. Last week, Kenney expanded a pilot program that allows foreign workers to change bosses, rather than being tethered to one employer for the duration of their stay.
We think that makes sense and provides a measure of flexibility for temporary workers, as well as some assurance they won't have to endure abuse from their bosses.
"This collapses what used to be a six-month, complicated, bureaucratic process into a one-step process, where they can get a work permit in 30 minutes at the airport," Kenney said.
For the past year, foreign steamfitters and pipefitters in the pilot project have been able to move freely between Alberta employers. Now, other in-demand tradespeople, including welders, heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights and carpenters will also be able to join the program.
A concern raised by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan bears noting. He says half the companies looking to hire foreign construction workers don't offer apprenticeship training programs - a shortcoming that should be remedied.
Canadians rightly expect skilled foreign workers to complement a homegrown workforce, not substitute for skills training. Both levels of government, and industry, need to ensure that young people, women and aboriginals, in particular, are given a chance to secure trades training so they can have access to lucrative and rewarding careers.
Calgary Herald Editorial, July 23 2012
AFL says government is wrong and Chartered Accountants are right: labour shortage fears are overblown
EDMONTON-The Alberta Federation of Labour released internal government documents today, showing claims of a catastrophic "labour shortage" are based on a bizarre calculation not used anywhere else in Canada, and never used previously in Alberta.
Calculations using more conventional and widely accepted methods show that there will be more workers than jobs in Alberta for the foreseeable future.
"Albertans have been told by government and business that the sky is falling and that desperate measures are necessary," say Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan. "But the truth is that someone has been playing games with the numbers: the labour market situation in Alberta is not nearly as dire as we've been led to believe."
The AFL obtained Government of Alberta documents showing the often-cited shortage of "114,000 workers by 2021" is based on a complicated calculation that uses obscure methods not seen since 1957.
Rather than a straightforward labour supply and demand calculation – used in other provinces and in Alberta until 2009 - Alberta now employs a "growth in demand/growth in supply" projection model. This model appears to be designed to yield a desired conclusion - an imminent and catastrophic shortage of workers.
The AFL has re-calculated the government's projections using more traditional methods. These calculations show that supply will outpace demand for the entire forecast period up to 2021.
These findings are in line with a report released yesterday by Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. The CGAAC report argues that while shortages of skilled labour do exist across Canada, they are sporadic and tend to be short-lived.
McGowan has written to Human Services Minister Dave Hancock advising him about the Accountant's report and asking his department to return to the more traditional method for calculating labour demand – and if not, asking him to explain why not.
His letter reads, in part: "Labour market projections are used to make important public policy decisions that have profound implications for working people and the economy. We cannot afford to get these calculations wrong because bad analysis leads to bad policy. And this isn't just a hypothetical problem. Inaccurate and misleading projections on labour shortages have already led to bad public policy such as the unjustified expansion the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the unnecessary changes that were made by the federal government to the age of eligibility for CPP and the punitive changes that were recently made to the EI system."
McGowan calls the claims of a catastrophic labour shortage "economics gobbledeegook intended to mislead the public about the actual state of the labour market."
"There is no question there are tight labour markets for some select trades," says McGowan. "But a somewhat tight labour market for select occupations or skills doesn't translate into an economy-wide shortage."
"Select skills shortages can be solved by government and industry investments in training and apprenticeship," continues McGowan. "The provincial government should also be working with the federal government to more effectively connect unemployed people in other provinces with jobs in Alberta. For example, we should be talking about things like making relocation allowance part of the EI program."
"Why did Alberta change the way it calculates a labour shortage?" asks McGowan. "It's likely the result of pressure from employers who have discovered that the notion of a massive labour shortage can be used as an effective political tool to win policies that drive down wages, such as expanding the Temporary Foreign Worker program."
"Working closely with the Harper government, low-wage lobbyists like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and non-union construction groups like the Merit Contractors Association have been pressuring the government to use creative math to manufacture a crisis. This crisis is then being used to win policies that shortchange hardworking Canadians out of wages that keep up with the cost of living," adds McGowan.
"Any claim of a massive labour shortage must be taken with enough grains of salt to fill an oil sands-sized dump truck."
For more information:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, (780) 218-9888
Read the Backgrounder
Faced with a looming labour shortage in a perpetually expanding economy, the door is opening wider for temporary foreign workers specializing in six in-demand trades, announced federal immigration minister Jason Kenney, Monday.
The changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program will reduce the amount of paperwork needed to hire trained foreign workers who can work as welders, heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights, carpenters and estimators - jobs that are in short supply in Alberta.
The new program - which is part of a one-year pilot project - will also allow skilled workers to move freely between Alberta employers without requiring authorization from Ottawa.
"It sounds like a good deal. We need those skills here in Alberta and if one employer can't use them anymore or goes through some internal changes, they can stay here and find other employment," said Ken Chapman, executive director of the Oil Sands Developers Group.
The changes have scrapped what used to be a bureaucratic, six-month application process, in favour of a one-step, streamlined process.
Companies can now begin recruiting in visa exempt countries, such as the United States, and invite those workers to Canada. As long as the workers make an application to work in Canada as a trades person, they can now be issued a work permit at major Canadian airports in as little as 30 minutes.
Under the current program, Chapman says foreign workers coming to Canada are issued a visa that only allows them to work under one employer. If a worker with skilled labour was laid off or fired, they were often forced to return home if they could not alter their visa conditions.
"We need to treat the foreign workers who come here with in-demand skills and trades in a fair way that meets the needs of industry and the region," he said. "It's a good move."
Ottawa hopes the move will fill a growing void in skilled labour. However, the Alberta Federation of Labour says the pilot program will leave fewer safeguards for foreign workers.
"Foreign workers are supposed to receive comparable wages and working conditions as Canadians, but there are no real mechanisms in place to ensure this happens. Once the foreign workers are in the province, they work at the whim of their employer," says Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, which represents 150,000 Alberta workers.
Furlong points to a 2010 provincial report that found 74% of employers who used the Temporary Foreign Worker program had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.
"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," she said.
"The result is employers can use these workers in ways that Canadians might not tolerate," says Furlong. "Once a foreign worker is brought in under this program, they can be moved around willy-nilly at the behest of the employer or employers who brought them in."
Fort McMurray Today, Wedn July 18 2012
Byline: Vincent McDermott
Canadian premiers and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City announced a deal to harmonize job credential requirements, which will help draw workers to combat Alberta's labour shortage.
Premiers and territorial leaders agreed Thursday to tear down barriers facing Canadians moving within the country for work, a new labour deal that proponents say will help Alberta address its crippling labour shortage.
Next summer, accredited workers -- who sometimes experience a hodgepodge of rules from province to province -- will see job-credential requirements harmonized. The changes should reduce delays and obstacles that keep some trained people, in occupations such as accounting, engineering or a construction trade, from moving to another region for a job.
"This brings some common sense to labour mobility," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Thursday at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City.
Stelmach noted the new deal will help the province fill a portion of the 400,000 jobs expected to be created over the next 10 years.
"We're going to be critically short, even with the very aggressive aboriginal workforce strategy, and incorporating more women, more people with certain disabilities."
Alberta isn't the only province grappling with a severe labour shortage, particularly skilled construction workers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said his province has 100,000 unfilled jobs, even as it endures downsizing in the auto industry.
According to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, a quarter of jobs in Canada face "serious mobility constraints."
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer added: "We believe working people and their families want to have a situation where they do not have to go through 13 separate accreditation processes, but rather one accreditation process.
"We believe a nurse is a nurse, a teacher is a teacher, a welder is a welder."
The new rules will exclude some professions, such as pharmacists.
The provinces and territories have been talking about revamping Canada's labour-mobility rules for sometime
Since the Agreement on Internal Trade was introduced in 1994, many professions have moved to harmonize job credentials.
However, a report completed last year for Industry Canada found progress to remove barriers was unfolding slowly because of a lack of urgency at some of the organizations that oversee accreditation.
"Governments will have to get tough with some of their independent regulatory agencies who have been allowed to get away with dragging their feet for too long," said the 2007 review of interprovincial barriers to labour mobility in Canada.
The bodies governing nurses and land surveyors in Alberta said Thursday their organizations have already reached nationwide mobility agreements. They expect meeting the premiers' 2009 deadline will not be a problem.
"Registered nurses have been leaders in this for many, many years," said Margaret Hadley, president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, adding nurses do not have to write a new exam when moving to the province.
"There's no barriers whatsoever."
Most barriers to land surveyors moving to Alberta were removed in 2001, said Brian Munday, executive director of the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association.
Before then, two years of articling was required no matter how long a person worked as a land surveyor in another province. Today, newcomers must only complete a few exams.
"Alberta has benefitted from that in terms of an influx of land surveyors," Munday said.
Also on Thursday, the premiers approved a new mechanism to resolve internal trade disputes, building on, in some respects, a trade, investment and labour-mobility agreement inked earlier between Alberta and British Columbia.
Under the national measures, an independent body will have the power to impose penalties of up to $5 million when trade rules are broken.
The old dispute system was based on finding consensus. It contained no binding settlement measures or penalties.
Some labour unions, however, are raising alarms about the independent body.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new policy could open the door to corporations suing all levels of government over actions hindering trade and profits.
"If there's not really a need for these changes, the question is why are they being made?" McGowan said. "We believe the premiers have buckled to pressure from the corporate community."
Business lobby groups don't share this perspective, instead applauding the new labour deal.
"This is a great thing to see on behalf of the workforce across Canada," said Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Heather Douglas.
"It will encourage people to move where the jobs are that will further their careers."
After inking their deal on trade and labour mobility within Canada, the premiers placed a spotlight on the North American Free Trade Agreement on Thursday, highlighting worries about its future.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he might want to renegotiate NAFTA, if elected to the White House.
Calgary Herald, Page A5, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio and Marianne White
Help may soon be on the way for the province's growing energy sector in the form of a collaborative approach addressing labour shortages.
A Workforce Strategy for Alberta's Energy Sector, developed by 37 energy associations, labour organizations and employers developed, was announced Tuesday. It contains 46 new actions to inform, attract and develop the workforce.
But while government and industry is heralding this strategy, labour unions are disappointed with the "business as usual" plan.
Alberta obviously needs an answer to the overall high demand for skilled and unskilled workers, according to Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Yet we see nothing new in this document, nothing innovative. It's really business as usual after you get through the PR and promises to study various issues," said McGowan in a statement.
Describing the strategy as lacking in substance, he added it includes "vague intentions and promises."
The strategy was kick-started by the Alberta departments of Energy and Employment, Immigration and Industry, the Alberta Chamber of Resources and the Construction Owners Association of Alberta.
Brian Maynard, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said 400,000 new jobs will be created in the province between now and 2015 but it leaves the province still 100,000 workers short.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 of the jobs will be in the oil and gas industry, he said.
''This is the biggest issue we face,'' he said. ''We can't do this without people.''
A highlight of the strategy includes a one-stop website about entering and working in the energy sector and living in Alberta to attract out-of-province workers, he said.
The purpose of the program is to develop ways to attract skilled workers to the whole industry through, for example, education and immigration, said Cheryl Knight, executive director and CEO of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
''It's more proactive and long-term,'' she said.
Energy Minister Mel Knight called the program ''a road map'' to ensure Alberta's energy sector continues to thrive and contribute to the province's economy.
''All of the pieces that have been brought together are certainly very valuable and can work in concert to get us to a goal,'' Knight said.
Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Wed July 11 2007
Alberta faces a potentially crippling shortage of workers that could stall development of multi-billion-dollar oilsands projects and the economy at large, government and industry officials said Tuesday.
Government forecasts say Alberta needs 400,000 new workers by 2015. But that analysis also shows 100,000 of those jobs won't be filled unless new strategies are engaged to recruit and train people from every possible demographic.
Brian Maynard, a vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says the energy industry alone faces a shortfall of 40,000 workers over the next eight years.
Failure to find the right number of workers could jeopardize billions in investment planned for the booming energy sector. Energy contributes about a third, more than $59 billion annually, to Alberta's gross domestic product.
Maynard said Alberta can't afford to ignore the brewing demographic storm. "There's just too much at stake," he said. "This is one of the biggest issues our industry faces."
Maynard was on hand for the unveiling of the Alberta government's workforce strategy for the oil and gas industry, a series of training and education initiatives designed to increase the labour pool by attracting more women, young people and aboriginals to the workforce.
Women in particular make up about three per cent of an oil and gas workforce that is typically Caucasian, older than 45 -- and male.
"The 100,000 (workers) come in pieces," said Energy Minister Mel Knight.
The energy industry has 150,00 direct employees and almost double that when indirect employment is counted.
By 2015 the oilpatch faces critical shortages of skilled trades ranging from process engineers to quality control supervisors. The province defines a critical shortage as any sector with less than three per cent unemployment.
The government's 10-year strategy was hashed out with the help of 37 energy associations, labour organizations and employers and aims to broaden the workforce with a suite of programs including training, education and attracting more people to move to Alberta from within Canada as well as overseas.
"The important thing to remember is that this is an industry led approach," said Lloyd Dick, speaking on behalf of the Alberta Chamber of Resources and Construction Owners Association of Alberta.
In addition, the program aims to recruit more young people. Youth unemployment is roughly double the province's official 3.8 per cent rate and energy is held with a certain amount of disdain among young people who see it as old-fashioned
"To attract the labour force of tomorrow we have to promote the petroleum industry as an employer of choice," said Cheryl Knight, executive director of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
But Gil McGowan, who heads the Alberta Federation of Labour, said his group is "suspicious" of government efforts to bring more workers to Alberta at a time when dissatisfaction with working conditions is running high.
Last week, five construction unions held strike votes in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray for the first time in more than 30 years, voicing displeasure with working conditions on major oilsands projects.
If the votes are positive, construction work in northeast Alberta could come to a halt before the end of the month.
McGowan accused the government of trying to circumvent Alberta's labour movement by bringing in temporary foreign workers.
He said employers are partly to blame for failing to attract and train new workers during the downturn. Instead many potential new recruits were turned away and took up careers in more "stable" sectors of the economy.
"What we're saying is that there has to be a better way to develop the workforce of the future so we're better ready for when the boom comes," he said. "Throwing money at the problem is not enough."
According to Iris Evans, Alberta's minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry, her department received about 8,000 applications for foreign workers, a four-fold increase from 2,000 applications at this time last year.
But CAPP's Maynard countered that hiring foreigners is an expensive last resort. Most companies would prefer to hire Canadians first, he added.
Skilled oil workers are as scarce as steel and equipment around the globe. The oil industry would still be hard-pressed to attract all the workers it needs even if immigration levels were dramatically increased, he noted.
"We need them in every area . . . and it's going to fall to immigration to fill the gap," he said. "There's nobody that's going to be left aside. Usually governments have had to deal with unemployment, now they're having to deal with full employment and that's a complete reversal from what they're used to."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Wed July 11 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
Labour fears foreign workers exploited; Temporary employees outnumbered immigrants to Alberta in 2006
EDMONTON - Alberta has become one of the first provinces to bring in more people as temporary foreign workers than through Canada's mainline immigration system, the Alberta Federation of Labour says.
The AFL contends that's bad because the province is relying more and more on workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.
The provincial government says it's good because temporary foreign workers are helping to ease severe labour shortage created by the economic boom.
The latest federal figures show Alberta had 22,392 temporary foreign workers as of Dec. 1, 2006. That's 1,675 more people than the number of immigrants granted permanent residency in Alberta last year.
Newfoundland was the only other province to accept more temporary foreign workers than permanent immigrants.
"We're not opposed to people coming from other countries to work in Canada," AFL president Gil McGowan said Friday. "But if they're going to come here, they should have the hope of becoming citizens."
These workers are less likely to stand up for themselves, so some employers take advantage of them, McGowan said.
He said the AFL has heard from dozens of foreign workers who complain employers make wrongful pay deductions, fail to pay overtime and break promises to provide training.
The province should deal with its labour shortage by providing better training for Canadian workers and slowing the pace of oilsands development, McGowan said. He said the immigration system also needs reform.
Lorelei Fiset-Cassidy, speaking for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry, said the temporary foreign-worker program is only for employers who can't find workers in the existing workforce.
"We see help-wanted ads in nearly every storefront and in newspapers across the province," Fiset-Cassidy said. "So we know there is a huge demand that can't be filled with the existing labour force."
She accused McGowan of painting an unfair picture of employers. She said many employers are offering language training as well as housing. "Retention is something employers are very concerned about. Obviously, it's in their interest to treat temporary foreign workers fairly."
Companies increasingly use a provincial nominee program to help foreign workers become citizens, she said. Last year nearly 1,000 workers were sponsored, Fiset-Cassidy said. "We're looking to more than double that this year."
Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat July 7 2007
Byline: Duncan Thorne