Prentice plan to re-open TFW floodgates would be bad news for working Albertans

Documents released by AFL show TFWs are being used to suppress wages in oil sands-related construction; some businesses fill more than half their jobs with TFWs

Edmonton – Internal government documents paint a clear picture of the negative consequences for working Albertans if Premier Jim Prentice is successful in convincing the federal government to re-open the TFW floodgates.

The documents, obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour through federal access to information requests, show thousands of Alberta-based businesses have been disproportionately relying on Temporary Foreign Workers — many with workforces that are more than 50 per cent TFWs. They also show many Alberta businesses have been granted work permits that allow them to pay TFWs far below the rate offered to Canadians.

“Rather than working on the side of businesspeople who want to use TFWs to suppress wages and displace Canadians, the Premier should be taking the side of working Albertans who have bills to pay and kids to raise,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “When it comes to making decisions about the future of the TFW program, he has to stop forming his opinions based exclusively on conversations he’s had with wealthy businessmen. Ordinary working people have a huge stake in all of this – their interests and their opinions cannot be ignored.”

The documents show that in 2013 there were 2,578 businesses nationwide whose workforces were more than 30 per cent TFWs – the majority of which were in Alberta. In the same year, 1,123 businesses had workforces that were more than 50 per cent TFWs. Again, the majority of these were in Alberta.

“There are a lot of fast food franchises on this list, but there are also a lot of big names in industries like construction and energy,” McGowan said. “Albertans deserve to know why the federal government thinks it’s okay for companies like Kiewet, Stuart Olson, Lafarge and Ensign Drilling to fill more than 30 per cent of their jobs with TFWs. And I think Canadians in places like Ontario and Quebec deserve to why the federal government is letting companies like Facebook, Amazon, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Infosys fill more than 50 per cent of their jobs with TFWs.”

McGowan says the list also raises serious concerns about the role being played by foreign state-owned corporations in the oil sands. More than half of the workers employed in Alberta by companies like Sinopec (a state-owned oil corporation from China) and Samjin (a subsidiary of Korea’s national oil company) are TFWs.

In addition to the list of businesses that use TFWs to fill more than 30 and 50 per cent of their jobs, the AFL also released documents showing that many construction companies in Alberta have been using TFWs to suppress the wages of tradespeople.

“It’s bad enough when businesses in the fast food industry are allowed to use TFWs to suppress wages, but when you start seeing the same thing happening with welders, ironworkers and electricians it becomes clear that the situation has gotten completely out of hand. These are the kind of jobs that form the backbone of Alberta’s middle class. Attacks on these jobs simply cannot be tolerated,” McGowan said.

Over the last two years, many work permits have been granted that allowed construction companies in Alberta to hire Temporary Foreign Workers at wages below those paid to Canadians. In some cases, the approved wages have fallen dramatically below the prevailing wage rate.

“A company called Supreme International was given approval to pay 28 TFW welders $19.25 an hour, which is $10.75 below the prevailing wage for welders in Alberta, and only about half of what a Canadian welder makes in Fort McMurray. Kiewet Energy Construction was given TFW permits for 100 industrial electricians and 100 ironworkers without even disclosing how much those TFWs would be paid,” said McGowan. “In June, the federal government introduced changes that will make it harder for low-wage employers to get access to TFWs. That’s a step in the right direction. But what these documents show is that the problem is not solved; it’s just moving up the wage ladder.”

McGowan has sent a letter to Premier Prentice urging him not to give into pressure from self-interested business owners who want to maintain easy access to exploitable TFWs. In the letter, McGowan reminds Prentice that too many construction companies have used TFWs to suppress wages, displace Canadians and ignore their responsibility to train the next generation of home-grown apprentices.

AFL Backgrounder:  Construction Trades Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Requests

AFL Backgrounder: ATIP Documents on Employees with TFW-Dominated Workforces

ATIP A-2014-00391: Canadian employers with a workforce of over 30% Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) and Canadian employers with a workforce composed of over 50% or more of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs)   NOTE: A list of Canadian employers with a workforce of over 30% Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) starts on page 132 (page 137 of the pdf), and a list of Canadian employers with a workforce composed of over 50% or more of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) starts on page 160 (page 166 of the pdf) of linked PDF

ATIP A-2014-00273: A list of all Labour Market Opinions issued May 1, 2012 - June 20, 2014 in Alberta by region

ATIP-A-2014-00074: Prevailing wage rates (or other wage rates, as used to adjudicate LMOs), for NOCs requested, by region from January 1, 2009 – March 31, 2014

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org


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