Alberta temporary foreign worker pilot expansion

Ottawa - The expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker pilot in Alberta is creating an outcry from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the (Stephen) Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," said Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, which represents 150,000 Alberta workers.

Originally launched June 1, 2011, under the Temporary Foreign Worker Annex to the Agreement for Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration, this pilot project allows eligible foreign nationals to come to Alberta to work temporarily in a specific occupation.

Through this program, a foreign worker can be issued a work permit that allows them to move freely between Alberta employers without requiring a Labour Market Opinion.

The Alberta pilot is expanding beyond the steamfitter/pipefitter occupation to include: welder, heavy duty equipment mechanic, ironworker, millwright and industrial mechanic, carpenter and estimator

"Our consultations with Alberta employers and our own labour forecasts show there is a need to expand the pilot to include these high-demand occupations," said Alberta's minister of enterprise and advanced education Stephen Khan in a news release.

The AFL says the pilot project will allow employers to recruit foreign workers without trying to fill the position with Canadians first. The AFL also says there will be fewer safeguards against abuse.

"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," said Furlong, noting that a 2010 Government of Alberta report found that 74 per cent of employers who hired workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.

The AFL is repeating the call to expand permanent immigration to address shortages that may exist in Alberta in select trades.

The organization has long held the position that the TFW program should be scrapped in favour of an immigration policy that brings in new Canadians in order to build the economy in a sustainable way.

"This is not about a labour shortage, it's a low-wage strategy. This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of non-union construction labour that is desperate for work," said Furlong.

Daily Commercial News, July 25 2012

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