EDMONTON - It's official. Alberta has become the first province in Canadian history to bring more people into its jurisdiction under the temporary foreign worker program than through Canada's mainline immigration system.
According to new figures from the federal department of Citizenship and Immigration, as of December 1, 2006, there were 22,392 temporary foreign workers in Alberta. That's more than double the 11,067 temporary workers who were in the province in 2003 and more than three times the 7,286 who were in the province in 1997.
Significantly, the 2006 figure for temporary foreign workers in Alberta is greater than the 20,717 immigrants granted permanent resident status in the province that year. This marks the first time that temporary workers have overtaken traditional immigrants.
Over the past five years, other provinces - most notably B.C. and Ontario - have also experienced dramatic jumps in the use of temporary foreign workers. But in those provinces, traditional immigrants still out number temporary workers.
"Once again, Alberta seems to be leading other provinces in the race to the bottom," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "If these temporary workers were on a track to becoming full citizens, it would be less of a concern - but they're not. The vast majority will be treated like Post-It Notes - to be used, discarded and sent back to the countries of origin."
As a result of the "exponential growth" of the temporary foreign workers program, McGowan says that "we're in the process of creating an underclass of workers who are much more vulnerable and open to exploitation than Canadian workers and who have little hope of ever becoming full citizens."
In response the dramatic jump in numbers, in early May the AFL established its own "Office of the Temporary Foreign Worker Advocate" to help temporary workers who are being ill-treated by employers or employment brokers.
In the seven weeks since opening the office, the AFL's Advocate has provided assistance to dozens of workers from India, Romania, Mexico, the Philippines and other countries. Complaints have ranged from exorbitant fees charged by brokers; to substandard housing; to employers refusing to pay overtime or reneging on promises related to wages and training.
"Unfortunately, we're afraid that what we've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg," says McGowan. "For every one person who has come to our office for assistance, there are many others who are too afraid to speak out for fear of being sent back to their countries of origin."
McGowan says that Canadians should be demanding answers from their leaders about why the temporary foreign worker program was allowed to expand so rapidly with virtually no public debate and why none of the necessary safeguards have been put in place to deal with predictable abuses.
"What's happening with the temporary foreign worker program is an example of massive policy failure," says McGowan. "Our leaders have let Canadians down by not allowing them to have a say in a program that runs contrary to Canadian values. And they've let thousands of foreign workers down by leaving them open to exploitation and abuse."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan AFL President @ 780-218-9888
For complete figures, consult the new tables on temporary foreign workers and traditional immigration released this week by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
For permanent immigrant data go here or to http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2006/permanent/18.asp
For temporary foreign worker data, go here or to http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2006/temporary/06.asp