Report on Temporary Foreign Workers finds Alberta's problems remain unsolved: AFL consultations find continued inaction on unscrupulous recruiters and employers
Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour released a report on the results of a consultation workshop on Temporary Foreign Workers today. For full report....
The report details the proceedings of a day-long series of workshops held with temporary foreign workers, community volunteers, immigrant-serving agencies, and trade unions. The consultation was in response to the Department of Employment and Immigration's roundtables on the subject.
The workshop reported ongoing issues with unscrupulous employers, recruiters, and labour brokers. Despite provincial government consultation on how Alberta's laws protecting TFWs from abuse by recruiters, no action has yet been taken on amendments to Alberta legislation.
"Our workshop heard unanimous support for adopting the Manitoba model for better regulation, monitoring, and enforcement of both employers and recruitment agencies - a model that better protects temporary foreign workers," says Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The AFL report also makes recommendations about fixing the government's Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office, adding staff to Employment Standards in order to conduct proactive inspections, and adding services to TFWs outside Alberta's major cities, where the majority of TFWs are now working.
The report also details new information on number of TFW entries to Alberta, and finds that TFW entries in 2009, despite the recession, were the same as 2007 numbers. Furthermore, TFW entries now substantially outpace new immigrants, showing that our province has now become a revolving door for a disposable workforce, rather than a welcoming place where immigrants come to build their lives.
"Our findings have shown that despite much higher unemployment, particularly among young Albertans, we continued to bring in thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers for low-skilled occupations," says McGowan. "This suggests that the TFW program was never about a labour shortage. It was - and is - about suppressing normal wage growth for the lowest-income Albertans and TFWs working in lower-skilled occupations," adds McGowan.
The Report concludes by recommending that Alberta exercise national leadership in providing a path to permanent residency for Temporary Foreign Workers. Alberta should immediately increase the number of TFWs going through the Provincial Nominee Program.
"In only four years, Alberta has gone from being a place where immigrants come to build a better life to a province where we use people for temporary work - often in abusive or exploitative circumstances, where vulnerable people don't have workplace protections - and then ship them out.
"Our recommendations are simply a starting point in turning the ship around, and getting back to a basic understanding of human rights, sustainable labour market policies, and safer workplaces for everyone working in Alberta," concludes McGowan.
Media Contact:Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021
A human rights expert is the keynote speaker at a workshop today, holding up Alberta's temporary foreign worker program as a failure.
Karl Flecker, director of anti-racism and human rights for the Canadian Labour Congress, will be speaking at event - The TFW Disaster: How the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is impacting Alberta's reputation - being staged by the Alberta Federation of Labour in Edmonton.
A number of temporary foreign workers are employed in the oilsands as well as in the local service and hospitality industry in Wood Buffalo.
"Canada's temporary foreign worker program is often touted as being a model program by Canadian government officials," said Flecker.
Truth is, he claims, the TFW program leads to exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous labour brokers and employers, countless experiences of workplace abuse, poor housing conditions and a systemic denial of benefits workers are entitled to receive but never see.
The AFL is hosting the workshop for two reasons, explained Gil McGowan, AFL president, this morning.
The time has come for labour and community groups to get together in order to craft a stronger message and start building a campaign in support of TFW reform and second, because the provincial government is in the process of re-evaluating the program. The AFL wants to take advantage of that re-evaluation "to put pressure on the provincial government to play a more positive role in fixing what we think is a broken system."
Teresa Woo-Paw, parliamentary secretary to Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's labour minister, who is heading the provincial review of the TFW program, has agreed to include whatever comes out of today's workshop in her review, he pointed out. Woo-Paw has been hosting meetings in different communities around the province, meeting with employers and community groups.
Though cold comfort, McGowan agreed it is something as the TFW program is a federal program so there is only so much the province can do.
"Just the fact that the provincial government is taking a second look at the temporary foreign worker program is encouraging for us because it demonstrates that we're not the only ones who are concerned that the program isn't working in the broader interest of Canadians."
About 65 people were attending the event with one-third from labour and the remainder representing immigrant settlement organizations, primarily non-profit groups such as the YMCA that work with immigrants and temporary foreign workers.
"They're the people on the front lines dealing with temporary foreign workers who have been cheated, misused or abused," said McGowan.
The AFL says the TFW program isn't working for employees or employers. It should be scrapped and replaced by a reformed immigration system that opens more paths to permanent residency and citizenship. The AFL estimates there are more than 65,000 documented foreign workers in the provinces, and tens of thousands more unregistered workers, creating a disposable workforce open to abuse.
Flecker said Canada's TFW program is not up for the job of ensuring basic human rights are upheld. "The program quite simply fails to ensure adequate workplace protections for those who toil in every single sector of the Canadian economy are in place," he said.
Fort McMurray Today, Thurs Nov 18 2010
Byline: Carol Christian
Janitors share complaints against Bee-Clean: University of Alberta contractor disputes accusations, suing union for defamation
A group of University of Alberta janitors spelled out their complaints against Bee-Clean Building Maintenance in front of a crowd of about 80 concerned students, professors, and labour group members on Tuesday.
Bee-Clean is the contractor responsible for janitorial services at the U of A, but many of the complaints brought forward by the janitors have been disputed by the company.
Justice for Janitors, a movement within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is seeking to represent the janitors at the U of A who work under Bee-Clean. One former Bee-Clean employee who spoke at the meeting, Gilbert Coy, was working at the U of A as a janitor to send money back to his family in the Philippines. Coy claims that Bee-Clean fired him for supporting the unionization of U of A janitors, along with another former Bee-Clean employee, Tarik Accord.
"The first time they saw my picture [in a union brochure], my supervisor called me and said 'is this your picture.' I said yes, and he said 'I'll give you time to think a bit, and if I were you, I'd quit the union,' " Coy said. "They gave me a chance to quit, but I didn't quit."
"The pressure is really difficult. That's why I'm here, I need to provide the needs for my family. I have three kids."
Outside the meeting, two Bee-Clean representatives passed out letters explaining the company's concerns with what was termed "misinformation [that] has been circulated about the employment of Bee-Clean service workers at the University of Alberta."
One of the complaints that had previously been raised was that Bee-Clean had neglected to pay their employees for overtime work. According to the letter, this was not intentional.
"Due to an administrative error, some employees were not paid properly for overtime work, some were underpaid, and some were overpaid," the letter read, which was signed by Bee-Clean President Brian Gingras.
The representatives at the meeting wouldn't comment further on the matter and asked that all matters be referred to higher management. When contacted, Robert Scott, the Regional Director of Bee-Clean, said that the allegations against Bee-Clean were "categorically untrue" and that the company was suing the union for defamation.
"We absolutely did not fire any of our employees for joining a union, [or] for making contact with a union," Scott said. "It's really important to note, I think, that there are two independent reasons that those employees are no longer with us. First, one employee unfortunately was involved in a physical altercation on campus."
"The second employee had only been working with us for two days and didn't show up for work one day [...] She asked for a different workload at the time and we couldn't offer her one. Unfortunately, we had nothing else to give her, and that's why she no longer works for us."
When previously contacted by The Gateway, the U of A said that they wouldn't get involved in an ongoing labour dispute.
Some university staff who attended the event voiced their displeasure with the administration's current stance.
Marco Katz, a doctoral student and an English and Film Studies instructor, called the university's position "extraordinary."
"We scream for justice everywhere in the world, but we're not going to talk about justice for the people who are in our offices and in our hallways?"
Terry Inigo-Jones, from Alberta Federation of Labour, echoed Katz's sentiment. He attended the meeting and was impressed by what the workers were doing given the situation, and had particular praise for the Temporary Foreign Workers.
"It's remarkable that people who are only here for a short period of time will make this commitment, take this risk, and fight for the rights of people who will come after them for very little benefit for themselves. They're not going to be here that long, so that's just a remarkable stand."
Gateway Online, Thurs Oct 21 2010
Byline: Simon Yackulic
The death of a temporary foreign worker in Alberta is raising questions about who should pay to ship his body home.
Aruna Shantha Peiris, 37, died of a heart attack two weeks ago. The Sri Lankan worked at Denny's Restaurant. Now his friends are trying to raise enough money - about $10,000 - to send his body home to his widow.
Lal Weera, a member of Edmonton's Sri Lankan community, called the Alberta government for help.
"I talked to Service Alberta and I asked this question, 'Who's responsible to pay the money to send his body?' So they say they don't have any clue."
An official with Alberta Employment and Immigration told CBC News repatriating the body is a federal responsibility. The federal government has not responded to inquiries from the CBC.
In the meantime, community members have raised $6,000. Weera said it's a shame the government isn't stepping up.
"You know from my eyes I can see there's no human rights for these people," he said.
The Alberta Federation of Labour said the confusion is typical of the temporary foreign worker program.
"There are almost no safeguards at all for people and for workers who unfortunately die here, there's nothing," said Yesse Byl, a foreign worker advocate with the AFL.
"There's no responsibility for the government or the employer to reunite the family with the body. There's just simply nothing."
CBC, Mon Oct 18 2010
Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is a journeyman pipefitter and pipe insulator, who travels back and forth between Newfoundland and Alberta for work.
He's been doing this since 2007, working at places like the Marystown Shipyard and taking jobs out west when there's no local work available.
Following in his father's footsteps, his son has completed nine months of College and is now a first-year apprentice, but Mr. Stacey said his search for work has been discouraging.
Although he's also willing to work outside the province, Mr. Stacey said no one seems to be hiring apprentices in this province or elsewhere because they want experienced workers.
And, on top of this, he contended the hiring of more foreign workers recently in Alberta is reducing the number of jobs for Newfoundlanders, who have traditionally migrated to Western Canada to work.
Apprentices need hours of work and experience to obtain a journeyman's certificate. They also need work to pay off student loans, which Mr. Stacey said can be as high as $12,000 to $13,000 for a nine-month course at a private college.
Mr. Stacey said his son has "bombarded Alberta with resumes, Quebec and everywhere in Newfoundland and, still nothing."
He recently got a job with an aerodynamics company in Grand Bank.
But Mr. Stacey said, there's not much work in his hometown and, previously, he was working at a local fast food takeout.
Mr. Stacey has been collecting e-mails about apprentices with similar stories.
"These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I've talked to several of them personally."
He believes both levels of government have "hung these kids out to dry," because they were encouraged to go to school and get a trade and, now, there's no work for them.
He worries jobs in Alberta for Canadian tradespeople, especially apprentices, will continue to decline as the number of foreign workers rise.
Mr. Stacey said he's witnessed this first hand. He said he was laid off recently in Alberta, while about 80 to 90 Filipino workers were still on the job.
He said being an experienced journeyman, he can usually find work on other projects, but young apprentices are not so fortunate.
He insisted this issue has nothing to do with race or racism.
"These people are wonderful to work with. But that's not the issue. The issue is our people are having to stay home."
The Alberta government estimates more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers currently work and live in that province.
Mr. Stacey suspected companies are hiring foreign workers to cut costs. He said he's witnessed some foreign workers in Alberta working 20 days straight, and only taking two days off, then working another 20-day period.
Mr. Stacey indicated Newfoundland tradespeople in Alberta normally work a 20-day stint and are flown home for eight days. He suggested by employing foreign workers who expect less, the companies are saving the cost of airfare and six days' leave for each worker.
Mr. Stacey said he's taken a lot of applications to Alberta to try to help young Newfoundland apprentices get work, and finds it disturbing Canadian tradespeople are "sitting home," while foreigners are being brought into the country.
He recalled at one time this could only happen if it was proven a worker with a particular skill wasn't available in Canada.
This issue is not only being debated among unemployed tradespeople in Newfoundland.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, in a release Sept. 3, called for the 'Temporary Foreign Worker' program to be scrapped. The program, which stems from an agreement between the federal and provincial governments, was designed to help employers fill temporary jobs during Alberta's boom period.
The labour federation in that province, however, claimed the program has become "so dysfunctional that it needs to be scrapped."
Secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong said tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers are becoming an "underground workforce," vulnerable to abuse.
Ms. Furlong said "Almost three-quarters of employers of temporary foreign workers inspected by the province in the past year violated employment standards, according to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP.
We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid overtime and live in substandard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada."
She has suggested the Alberta government scrap the program and replace it with immigration through regular channels.
The Alberta government announced in September it was investing $850,000 to immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta.
At the same time, the province said it would look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta's workforce, its communities and its people to identify future programming options.
Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said while the focus will "always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province - making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do."
Mr. Lukaszuk said he has asked his parliamentary assistant Teresa Woo-Paw to lead a review of the impact of the program on Alberta and present her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.
Mr. Stacey said he has contacted provincial and federal politicians and plans to present information he's collected from other people in this province to both levels of government.
He's already heard from apprentice steamfitters, pipefitters, pipe insulators, heavy equipment operators, electricians and other tradespeople who find work.
One person, who finished an industrial instrumentation technician program at the College of the North Atlantic in 2009, said he has had no luck yet getting any work in his trade.
A mother told Mr. Stacey her son and two of his friends completed electrical and commercial trades last year and can't find work, despite all three having above 85 averages.
He said one man he's spoken with actually has three trades and still can't find work.
Mr. Stacey explained when student loans are due and there's no work to be found, often the only option is to go back to school and take more courses, with the hope of eventually landing a job. Otherwise these tradespeople have no means to pay off their student debt.
St. John's Telegram, Wed Oct 13 2010
Byline: Deana Stokes Sullivan
A group of Edmonton janitors is suing a cleaning company for $42,435 over allegations that overtime money is being held back and that they have been threatened with deportation.
The janitors, many of whom are temporary foreign workers from the Philippines, say their employer, University of Alberta contractor Bee Clean Building Maintenance, is refusing to pay them tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.
Bee Clean declined to comment on the allegations.
When the non-unionized workers questioned the company about the alleged lost wages, they claim they were being threatened with deportation.
Danilo DeLeon, who is a temporary foreign worker from the Philippines, moved to Edmonton to work for Bee Clean about a year and a half ago.
'They treat us like slaves, not [as] workers.'-Danilo DeLeon
He said he works five, 12-hour shifts every week, with an extra seven-hour shift on what would otherwise be his day off.
DeLeon said he's supposed to get time and a half for anything more than 80 hours every two weeks.
But Bee Clean has refused to pay, he claimed.
"They treat us like slaves, not [as] workers," DeLeon said.
When he told his employer he would contact a union or the Ministry of Labour about Bee Clean's refusal to pay him, DeLeon said his boss threatened to have him deported.
"My supervisor threatened to send me back home. He said the owner was upset," he said.
Still, DeLeon told the Service Employees International Union about his case.
Union spokeswoman Merryn Edwards said it has filed civil suits to try to get money for five Bee Clean employees.
Edwards said the union filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board on Friday.
Workers are afraid to complain: advocate
"The level of threats and intimidation here is very serious. You know the threats of deportation being perhaps the most serious, but to be threatened with job loss or having their hours cut is very serious," Edwards said.
Amy Kaler, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta said the university needs to seriously looks at the allegations of underpayment, harassment and unsafe working conditions.
"As an university employee, I'm embarrassed that the person who cleans my office and empties my waste basket has to put up with the kind of degrading treatment that the people here are telling us this morning," Kaler said Friday at news conference at the University of Alberta on the issue.
Yessy Byl, a temporary foreign worker advocate with the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the Bee Clean case is a prime example of exploitative issues temporary foreign workers across Canada face on a daily basis.
Earlier this month, Alberta announced it would be reviewing a program that brings temporary foreign workers to the province.
Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the review will look at what impact the arrival of thousands of workers from out of the country has on Alberta's workforce.
Calgary MLA Theresa Woo-Paw, who is leading the review, will report her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.
As well, the Temporary Foreign Worker program, a federal initiative, was established to help employers fill temporary jobs.
Despite the governments' efforts, however, temporary foreign workers still live in fear, Byl said.
"Most foreign workers are afraid to complain, because they are in situations where they are supporting families back home. They need this job desperately," she said at the news conference.
More than 60,000 in Alberta
Byl said the federal and provincial governments do nothing to protect temporary foreign workers if they are wrongfully terminated. In fact, governments make it impossible for the worker to get a new job, and in the end the worker is deported, she said.
"At no time does the employer get prosecuted by the federal government or provincial government [for the wrongful termination]," she said. "It's the workers who end up bearing the burden."
There are more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta, according to provincial officials.
CBC News, Fri Oct 1 2010
While the province moves to reform the temporary foreign worker program, the Alberta Federation of Labour says scrap it.
The labour group says the program is failing foreign workers and employers, and is so dysfunctional it needs to be scrapped, rather than reviewed and reformed.
"We welcome the announcement that the province is renewing funding for agencies to protect temporary foreign workers, but this $850,000 sum should be put in context," says Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, which represents 140,000 Albertans.
On Friday, the province announced it was extending funding of $850,000 to immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta. The funding has been provided to agencies in key areas including Fort McMurray. At the same time, the province will look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta's workforce, its communities, and its people to identify future programming options.
She questioned the effectiveness of the money considering it has to be spread across the entire province to protect the documented 66,000 temporary foreign workers from the exploitation and abuse witnessed on a daily basis.
"How effective will it be in protecting the tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers who are becoming an underground workforce and are even more vulnerable to abuse?" she asked.
According to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP, almost three-quarters of employers employing temporary foreign workers violated employment standards according to provincial inspections in the past year.
"We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid over-time and live in sub-standard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada," said Furlong.
While the AFL also welcomes the review of the program planned by Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, the only way to fix the program is to scrap it and replace it with immigration through regular channels.
"While our focus will always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province, making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do," said Lukaszuk in a statement announcing the funding.
Teresa Woo-Paw, Lukaszuk's parliamentary assistant, will lead a review of the impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Alberta and bring forward her findings and recommendations by spring next year.
"The temporary foreign worker program helped to quickly fill temporary jobs during Alberta's boom, it is a program that Alberta values and will always welcome," Woo-Paw said. "Now that we have some space to breathe, let's make sure we plan and have the right services in place for the future."
However, Furlong argues that Alberta needs these workers now and will need them in the future. All who come here to work, including low-skilled workers, should be able to get on the ladder to permanent residency and citizenship, but low-skilled workers have almost no access to apply for immigration.
The TFW program is administered by the federal government, and she said the AFL is happy to help the Alberta government pressure Ottawa to scrap it and replace it with real immigration that works for foreign workers, Alberta workers and Alberta employers.
Fort McMurray Today, Tues Sept 7 2010
Byline: Carol Christian
Alberta workers still fighting for rights: Province lags behind on workplace safety, farm worker rights and temporary foreign workers
While Albertans enjoy this Labour Day weekend, recent news reports reveal there is still much to be done to protect vulnerable workers in the province.
"The Alberta government has once again missed an opportunity to save lives and prevent injuries to workers with its watered-down website on employer safety records," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
After nearly a decade of inaction, earlier this year Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk vowed to create a website to post the full safety records of employers, including violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Code. What the minister announced last week fell a long way short of his pledge by allowing code violations to remain clouded in secrecy.
Farm workers are likely to remain at risk in the workplace with reports that the government is set to ignore a provincial judge's recommendations to include them in health, safety and employment standards legislation. After being asked by the Premier to investigate the workplace death of Kevan Chandler, Justice Peter Barley recommended that farm workers must be included in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to prevent future workplace injuries and deaths.
The government appears to be favouring a safety-education campaign rather than providing the same protection in law offered to workers in other industries. Farm workers also have no access to the Workers' Compensation Board and no right to join a union.
"Alberta remains the only province where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job," says McGowan. "In the nine years the Alberta government has said it is 'consulting' on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites."
Meanwhile, a flawed Temporary Foreign Worker program that doesn't work for foreign workers vulnerable to exploitation, for Alberta workers or employers continues to operate. "This program is so dysfunctional it probably has to be scrapped and replaced with something that works for employers and immigrants, instead of creating a disposable workforce," says McGowan.
McGowan is available for annual Labour Day comments this weekend. He will be attending the Calgary and District Labour Council's Labour Day barbeque for the unemployed and underemployed on Monday, Sept. 6.
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, is also available for comments and will be at the Edmonton and District Labour Council barbeque for the unemployed and underemployed on Monday, Sept. 6.
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-720-8945 (cell)
Temporary Foreign Worker program should be scrapped, not reformed: Program is failing foreign workers, Alberta workers and Alberta employers, says AFL
The Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program is so dysfunctional that it needs to be scrapped, rather than reviewed and reformed, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"We welcome the announcement that the province is renewing funding for agencies to protect temporary foreign workers, but this $850,000 sum should be put in context," says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL, which represents 140,000 Albertans.
"How effective will $850,000 be when it is spread across the whole province to protect the documented 66,000 temporary foreign workers from the exploitation and abuse we witness on a daily basis? How effective will it be in protecting the tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers who are becoming an underground workforce and are even more vulnerable to abuse?"
Almost three-quarters of employers of temporary foreign workers inspected by the province in the past year violated employment standards, according to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP.
"We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid overtime and live in sub-standard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada," says Furlong.
While the AFL also welcomes the review of the program planned by Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, the only way to fix the program is to scrap it and replace it with immigration through regular channels.
"Alberta needs these workers now and will need them in the future. All who come here to work, including low-skilled workers, should be able to get on the ladder to permanent residency and citizenship,' says Furlong. "Low-skilled workers have almost no access to apply for immigration."
The TFW program is administered by the federal government and the AFL is happy to help the Alberta government to pressure Ottawa to scrap it and replace it with real immigration that works for foreign workers, Alberta workers and Alberta employers.
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-720-8945 (cell)
CALGARY - Alberta is taking advantage of an economic lull to examine how a flood of temporary foreign workers has affected the province and how to prepare for the next labour squeeze, a provincial cabinet minister said Friday.While some have called for a federal Temporary Foreign Worker program to be nixed altogether, Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the initiative has served Alberta well.
"I would not be advocating for scrapping the Temporary Foreign Worker program. This program has actually worked very well at a time when there was a severe worker shortage," he told reporters.
Lukaszuk said he's asked his parliamentary assistant, Teresa Woo-Paw, to gather feedback from across the province on how the program can be improved. Woo-Paw is to report her findings in the spring, and then pass them on to Ottawa, which is in charge of the program.
"With the economy slowing down in Alberta, this is the right time for us to stop and consult and plan for the future," Woo-Paw said.
The province also says it is committing $850,000 in funding to agencies that help temporary foreign workers adjust to life in Alberta.
During boom times, thousands of workers from abroad were brought in to fill a variety of jobs across Canada, white-collar and blue-collar alike.
In Alberta, the need was driven largely by breakneck growth in the province's oilsands, where there weren't enough local engineers, tradespeople and labourers to get the work done.
Many companies resorted to flying in workers from their homes in eastern Canada for week-long shifts. Others took advantage of the Temporary Foreign Worker program, for which companies qualify only if they can prove they have exhausted all of their local options.
The Alberta Federation of Labour calls the Temporary Foreign Worker program "dysfunctional" and says it should be replaced entirely by immigration through regular channels.
Many of the workers are forced to pay illegal fees to recruitment agencies, live in sub-standard housing and work unpaid overtime, said secretary-treasurer of the AFL, Nancy Furlong. Workers are commonly misled into believing they will be able to stay in Canada for good, she said.
"Alberta needs these workers now and will need them in the future. All who come here to work, including low-skilled workers, should be able to get on the ladder to permanent residency and citizenship," said Furlong.
"Low-skilled workers have almost no access to apply for immigration."
Alberta currently has more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers. Many were laid off when the economy tanked in late 2008 and into 2009.
Even though Alberta's unemployment rate sits above six per cent, Lukaszuk says it's inevitable the labour market will be squeezed again when the economy recovers.
"One doesn't really need a crystal ball to come to the conclusion that not only Canada, but most western countries, will be facing a severe and very acute labour shortage for several decades to come," he said, noting baby boomers retiring in droves and Canada's natural birthrate is flat.
Even in this sluggish economy, there are sectors - particularly the trades - that need more manpower, he added.
One problem with the program has been de-facto permanent jobs being filled by a string of temporary workers. More needs to be done to fill those permanent spots with permanent workers, possibly by expanding a provincial nominee program, Lukaszuk said.
But the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program still plays an important role, Lukaszuk said.
"General immigration - opening up the borders for anyone who applies to come in - does not necessarily address your labour problem, because you need specific skill sets for specific locations and for specific employers," he said.
There will always be jobs that can't easily be filled by Albertans.
"We have evolved into a society that is affluent and there are certain jobs that Albertans simply choose not to take," Lukaszuk said.
There are also "geographic difficulties."
"Some of the jobs are available in areas that Albertans either choose not to live or choose not to travel to on an ongoing basis."
Canadian Press, Fri Sept 3 2010
Byline: Lauren Krugel