Alberta employers are increasingly looking to temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to fill jobs despite long unemployment lines in other parts of Canada, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
The number of approved applications (favourable Labour Market Opinions (LMOs)) for employers keen to bring TFWs into Alberta rose by 37 per cent between 2009 and 2010, rising by 11,655 to a total of 42,885, according to the federal government.
"While unemployment is in the double digits in other parts of Canada and more than 25 per cent for young workers in some provinces, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the TFW program is becoming the first choice for many employers rather than a tool of last resort, especially here in Alberta," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers.
There were 57,774 TFWs working in Alberta in 2010, down from the peak of 65,671 in 2009, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. But if all the newly approved applications are used by employers to bring new guest workers into the country, the number of TFWs in Alberta could jump to more than 100,000, said the AFL.
"The majority of applications for TFWs in Alberta — 38 per cent — are for workers in the accommodation and food services industry. We have now essentially created an underclass of cheap, exploitable workers in Alberta," said McGowan.
"We're abandoning real immigration in favour of using an exploitative guest worker program to fill our most menial and undesirable jobs," he said. "It's a shameful transformation and a betrayal of Canadian values and our traditional approach to immigration."
Instead of allowing the tight labour market in Alberta's service sector to drive wages up which, in turn, would attract workers from other parts of the country, employers are using the TFW program for recruitment needs, said McGowan.
"(The federal government) is using the TFW program to help employers, especially in the service sector, defy the economic laws of gravity by using foreign workers to keep wages low, when the tight market says they should be going up."
McGowan said he supports the recent call by Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukazsuk to scrap the TFW program and replace it with a more traditional approach to immigration.
Canadian HR Report, Tues Aug 2, 2011