The Alberta government has recognized the failings of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, but has missed an opportunity to offer real solutions, says the province's largest labour organization.
"We welcome the conclusion in today's report that the TFW program is flawed and is not the answer to Alberta's labour needs," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "But they've failed to make the step from conclusions to solutions."
In the report, titled Impact of the TFW Program on the Labour Market in Alberta, MLA Teresa Woo-Paw says: "As a result of this review process, I have concluded that we cannot continue to use the TFW Program to fulfill our province's long-term labour shortages. Doing so has significant, negative impacts for the long-term growth of our economy. Although temporary foreign workers (TFWs) have a place in our economy, the TFW program is not a long-term solution to Alberta's labour market needs."
McGowan says: "Despite the government accepting this clear conclusion, it has offered no concrete solutions. In particular, we are seriously disappointed that the Employment and Immigration Minister has failed to adopt the Manitoba model for dealing with the TFW issue, which the AFL promoted in its submission to the review of the program."
The Manitoba government maintains a rigorous monitoring policy that involves registration for any employer hiring temporary foreign workers, as well as a rigorous system for monitoring brokers and recruiters.
"Unlike Alberta, the government of Manitoba knows precisely where temporary foreign workers are employed, at what kinds of jobs, and what kinds of skill levels. This makes proactive enforcement, payroll inspection, monitoring of recruiter activity, status of work permits, and the monitoring of labour market needs much easier. We particularly need tougher inspection and enforcement in order to prevent the widespread abuse of vulnerable TFWs that we have seen in the past," says McGowan.
"In his response to Woo-Paw's report, Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he would lobby the federal government to remove the annual caps on the number of TFWs that can be nominated for permanent immigration and to expand routes to permanent residence for low- and semi-skilled TFWs. He also said he would ask the federal government to reform the mainline immigration system," says McGowan.
"Make no mistake. We welcome these attempts to lobby the federal government, but these and the other measures adopted by the minister are not enough," he says.
"When it comes to his targets for lobbying the federal government, the minister is definitely on the right track," says McGowan. "He has many of the right targets. But here at home in Alberta, he's basically committing to the status quo. Given Woo-Paw's conclusion that the TFW program is broken, that's clearly not good enough. For example, it's not enough to simple 'continue enforcing' existing legislation. We need new and better legislation to deal with employers and brokers who abuse workers," he says.
"It is also inconsistent for the Alberta government to point out the serious flaws in the TFW program while also saying it wants to make it easier for employers to apply to bring in TFWs," says McGowan.
"What's also missing from the report is any acknowledgement that the Alberta government has played a big role in the problems that an expanded TFW program is purportedly needed to address. Employers in some areas, including construction, are having a hard time finding workers, but that's because the Alberta government has approved too many big oilsands projects at once," he says.
"We probably wouldn't even be talking about shortages and foreign workers if the government had followed the advice of former Premier Peter Lougheed and had set a more reasonable pace for development in the oilsands."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888