Alberta town would be 'shut down' without foreign workers

After news of RBC's outsourcing of jobs caused a nationwide outcry, one small Alberta town said it depends on foreign workers to fill jobs that Canadians refuse.

In Rocky Mountain House, a town in central Alberta, business owner Nikki Searth said she relies on the program because she has trouble finding a student who will accept an $11-an-hour cashier job.

According to Searth, it wasn't always so.

"Our ethics have changed with work. I know when I was younger everybody had a job," she told CTV News. "I find today it's not the case."

The turning point for town was the oil boom of 2007, after which it became hard to compete with the lure of a six-figure salary.

"A lot of businesses scaled back the hours, a lot of them were shutting days they weren't before. And owners were back in the kitchens," Donald Verhesen, a town councilmember, said.

Today there are "quite a few foreign workers in Rocky," one resident told CTV News.

"I know the Burger Baron in the town close to here is getting foreign workers, because you just can't get anyone to work," she said.

In fact, out of the 340,000 temporary foreign workers currently in the country, 85,000 are in Alberta, more than any other province.

To labour unions, that is far too many.

"This is not the way you build a country, but it is the way you break a labour market and drive down wages and conditions," Gill McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said.

However, there are fears from the industry about changes to the foreign worker program.

The tourism association in particular relies heavily on foreign workers.

In a letter to several ministers Friday, the association warned that changes to the program could hurt the $84.8 billion industry.

Rocky Mountain House residents also fear what would happen to the town if there were no temporary foreign workers available to fill jobs.

"It would be shut down because there are not enough young people to work in these places," one resident said.

CTV News, Friday Apr 12 2013
With a report by CTV Daniele Hamamdjian

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