Fatal accidents on Alberta job sites increased substantially last year, nudging closer to the alarmingly high occupational death rates recorded during the province's previous boom of the early 1980s.
Safety statistics released by the province yesterday revealed the 2007 overall injury rate as the lowest in Alberta's history. That accomplishment was muted, however, by 154 on-the-job deaths -- up from 124 in 2006.
In the early '80s, when Alberta was in the throes of a similarly super-heated boom, 169 workers died on the job in both 1980 and 1982.
Employers cutting corners on safety is a common theme in both eras, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"Workplace injuries and fatalities have spiked because of the overheated pace of economic development," he said.
"We're seeing young people thrown on construction sites and not being provided with the necessary safety training."
But drawing parallels between the two booms fails to take into account Alberta's population growth over the past three decades, said Employment and Immigration spokesman Barrie Harrison.
"It's safe to say our workforce was not near the size back then as it is now," he said. "But no one in our office is looking through rose-coloured glasses -- we're not happy with it. We know every one of those was preventable."
Harrison said the scarcity of labour could actually behove employers to ensure their workers are safe.
"Does one counter the other? I don't know if we have the answer to that right now ... but one year does not a trend make, so I think it's premature to suggest that," he said.
Nevertheless, McGowan called the province's claim of record-low injuries "disingenuous" in its reliance on lost-time claims, which dropped for a seventh straight year.
He said this fails to take into account the number of workers injured on the job who remain on modified duties.
"While it's true the accident rate declined slightly from 2006 to '07, the fact remains, those two years are the highwater marks in Alberta history for workplace accidents and fatalities," said McGowan.
He said Workers' Compensation Board numbers show total claims dropped from 181,000 to 175,000 from 2006 to '07, but are vastly increased from the 98,000 recorded in 1996.
The worst year was 1914 with 221, the bulk of them victims of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster, said Jason Foster, AFL director of policy analysis.
Calgary Sun Media, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Doug McIntyre
The number of workplace deaths in Alberta soared 24 per cent in 2007 -- to one of the highest numbers on record -- highlighting occupational dangers and inadequate safety training provided to workers flooding into an overheated economy.
Occupational fatalities in the province jumped to 154 in 2007 from 124 in 2006 -- numbers the Stelmach government says are symptomatic of inexperienced workers entering potentially dangerous workplaces.
"There's no denying that 154 workplace fatalities is way too many," Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau told the legislature Thursday. "One fatality is way too many."
The minister noted, however, the provincial injury rate hit an all-time low in 2007, based on the lost-time claim rates.
Nevertheless, as Alberta's population has exploded in recent years with the economic boom, so, too, have the number of workplace deaths. The 154 fatalities in 2007 were the most in at least 10 years and approached the record 169 deaths recorded in both 1980 and 1982.
But the 24 per cent spike in deaths in 2007 far surpassed the 3.3 per cent increase in the size of Alberta's workforce, which reached almost two million people.
For Rich Smith -- who lost his son Sean in December to a workplace accident -- the jump in the fatality rate is "disturbing."
"That's not a good figure," Smith told the Herald.
He noted, though, the family does not make a connection between the statistics and Sean's death, and he would be disturbed by the numbers even if his son had not died.
"Our son is not a statistic. It's an accident, whether it's one of 154 or one in 10 makes no difference," he added. "The impact on us is the same."
Sean Michael Smith, 28, was killed when a drill crew was moving a rig near Waterton Lakes National Park on Dec. 28 and a "clamshell" lid collapsed, hitting Sean on the head. An investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety officials is ongoing.
Smith said he believes Alberta is, overall, a safe place to work, but that the current pace of life and work is probably impacting safety.
Included in the 2007 fatalities were 44 motor vehicle incidents, 47 workplace incidents and 63 occupational disease deaths, such as asbestosis. The true number of deaths is probably higher because the province won't cover many farm workers in provincial workplace legislation.
Many 2007 workplace incidents included employees being crushed to death by equipment, killed by long falls or electrocuted.
One of the most unfortunate fatalities -- also a stark example of how workplace deaths can affect anyone -- involved a 54-year-old restaurant worker who tripped over a case on the floor while carrying several trays. The worker broke a leg and died subsequently in hospital due to complications brought on by a serious post-operative wound infection.
Goudreau suggested the alarming numbers result from several factors, including a fresh wave of new workers being hired who aren't ready for a certain line of work, as well as companies failing to properly train all their employees. He said the government will ratchet up its efforts with employers and workers in hopes of curbing the disturbing trend.
The spike in the fatality rate between 2006 and 2007 should raise alarm bells for both the government and employers, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
"It's an indication there's a real and growing problem with safety on worksites across the province," he said. "Workers are paying with their bodies and sometimes their lives."
McGowan said government has an "obligation" to step up enforcement during times of economic boom because employers often cut corners, usually relating to health and safety. Instead, it has been "business as usual," he said.
McGowan acknowledged there had been a slight dip in the number of work-related accidents between 2006 and 2007, but said over the long term, both years saw dramatically higher rates than the province has traditionally experienced.
In 1996, there were 98,000 workplace accidents; in 2006, there were 181,000, McGowan said, adding the workforce has not doubled during that time.
"For them to say we're moving in the right direction is to ignore what has actually been happening in the last decade," he said.
Opposition parties demanded the government immediately increase the number of workplace safety inspectors and random inspections of job sites.
"The government has paid nothing but lip service to this issue," said NDP Leader Brian Mason. "They've never taken effective action to reduce workplace injuries."
Liberal employment critic Hugh MacDonald said all Albertans -- including employers, workers and politicians -- have a responsibility to ensure the alarming fatality rates quickly improve.
"Everyone has an obligation to ensure that trend is not only halted, but reversed," MacDonald said.
Workplace fatalities in Alberta 2007: 154 2006: 124 2005: 143 2004: 124 2003: 127 2002: 101 2001: 118 2000: 118 1999: 114 1998: 105
Record number of fatalities: 169 in both 1980 and 1982
Calgary Herald, page A1, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Jason Fekete and Gwendolyn Richards
EDMONTON - Alberta workplace deaths jumped 24 per cent in 2007, but injuries fell slightly during the same period, new provincial statistics show.
A total of 154 people died on the job or as a result of their work last year, which is up from 124 in 2006, which was a 15-year low. The government says the number of deaths last year is consistent with the rates from the past 10 years.
For Rich Smith, who lost his son Sean in December to a workplace accident, the jump in the fatality rate is "disturbing.
"Our son is not a statistic. It's an accident, whether it's one of 154 or one in 10 makes no difference. The impact on us is the same."
Sean Smith, 28, was killed when a drill crew was moving their rig near Waterton Lakes National Park on Dec. 28. A clamshell lid collapsed, hitting him on the head. An investigation into the incident by Workplace Health and Safety is ongoing.
Rich Smith said he believes Alberta is, overall, a safe place to work, but that the current pace of life and work is probably affecting safety.
Many 2007 workplace incidents included employees being crushed to death by equipment, killed by long falls or electrocuted on job sites.
One death involved a 54-year-old restaurant worker who tripped over a case. The worker broke a leg and later died in hospital due to complications caused by a post-operative infection.
Of the 154 deaths last year, 44 were motor vehicle accidents, 47 were workplace accidents and 63 were from occupational diseases.
The disabling injury rate decreased to 3.88 per 100 person hours in 2007, from 4.14 the previous year.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau said part of the reason for the increase in deaths was the higher number of workers in the province.
But Goudreau had no explanation as to why the injury and death numbers were headed in opposite directions.
"We really don't know. We'll be looking at those numbers a lot closer to try to see where those numbers are coming from."
Alberta Federation Labour President Gil McGowan said the "government is try to reassure us that we're moving in the right direction with workplace health and safety, when nothing could be further from the truth. It demonstrates that they're not taking this problem seriously."
McGowan said employers are running their operations past their capacity and cutting corners on workplace safety.
The government, he said, may have the right rules in place, but doesn't enforce them properly.
In 2006, McGowan said B.C. launched 74 prosecutions for workplace health and safety violations. In the same period, Alberta launched 12.
Goudreau said a decision still hasn't been made on whether to prosecute Canadian Natural Resources Limited for the deaths of two Chinese workers last year at their Horizon project 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
Alberta Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald said the 24-per-cent increase in deaths should raise alarm bells with the government.
"Any time you have three workers per week lose their life, we've got to work harder."
Both he and McGowan suggested the government needs increase the number of random jobsite inspections and the amount of workplace education.
Alberta's fatality numbers do compare closely with other provinces. In 2005, Alberta had eight deaths per 100,000 workers, while B.C. had 8.9 and Ontario had 6.5.
The government data do not include all workplace injuries and deaths, such as agricultural accidents that don't fall under the Workers' Compensation Board jurisdiction.
Edmonton Journal, Fri Apr 18 2008
Byline: Archie McLean
More people died after being injured in Alberta workplaces in 2007 over the previous year, although the total number of accidents was down, statistics released Thursday by the province showed.
There were 154 deaths in 2007, up from 124 in 2006, an increase of 24 per cent. At the same time, injuries were down by six per cent, from 36,701 to 34,227.
"On one hand we're making great gains when it comes to reducing workplace injuries," Hector Goudreau, the minister of employment and immigration, said in a news release.
"On the other hand, there are still far too many workers in Alberta getting killed on the job."
The rising number of deaths is unacceptable, said Goudreau, who promised his department will step up efforts to get the safety message out to workers and industry.
Gil McGowan, head of Alberta's Federation of Labour, said there are far too many people being killed at work.
"Frankly what's happening here is that the pace of development in this province is putting people's lives at risk," he said. "Employers are speeding up trying to get jobs done and corners are being cut and one of the first corners unfortunately that's cut is usually health and safety."
While the number of fatalities is significantly up, Goudreau's department said that compared to the increase in the workforce, the rate is consistent with figures over the past 10 years.
CBC News.ca, Thurs Apr 17 2008
Legislation knocks down trade barriers: Business between Alberta and B.C. gets easier but critics have concerns
EDMONTON - Alberta introduced legislation today that the governing Conservatives say will knock down trade barriers between Alberta and British Columbia, save companies money and enable workers to move easily across the provincial boundaries.
Premier Ed Stelmach called the legislation - the first bill of the new government's first session - "ground-breaking" and claimed it is the envy of other provinces.
He said other provinces should "join the team" if they want to compete with other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world.
"This is all about getting our act together and removing some of the most ridiculous regulations," he told reporters following the bill's introduction.
The premier conceded that the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) "is quite a mouthful" but it will allow people in 100 occupations to work in either province without having to upgrade their certification requirements.
The bill eliminates the need for small businesses to register in both provinces and allows Alberta to waive corporate presence requirements that force out-of-province oil companies to set up bases in the province.
Although some terms of the deal took effect a year ago, the agreement will remain in a transitional phase until next April 1 when it comes fully into force.
International and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Ron Stevens went after critics of TILMA during a press conference, saying the deal has the support of the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"It's pretty obvious to most that TILMA is a powerful step forward for our economy but there are some who would believe otherwise," he said. "TILMA does not threaten the ability of local governments to make laws. It does not affect environmental priorities, social programs, aboriginal programs, taxation, royalties, water and labour standards or health and safety. Bill one is truly a great piece of news for Albertans."
Stevens said he didn't know why Saskatchewan has opted not to participate in TILMA, but he said the deal is being watched closely and with an admiring eye by many other provinces and the federal government.
During last fall's Saskatchewan election, both NDP Leader Lorne Calvert and victorious Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said they were concerned that the deal might negatively affect the operation of their numerous Crown corporations.
Stevens said he didn't see that as an issue.
"The principles we're working on are sound," he said in a later interview. "What we're trying to do is break down and eliminate redundancy and rules that don't make any sense basically and enhance the trade between the two provinces. It's difficult to see what the concern is."
Stevens said Ontario and Quebec are now exploring the idea of a similar deal between their two provinces and his office has fielded queries from the Yukon and New Brunswick.
The agreement stipulates that governments or third parties must take alleged violations of the agreement to a TILMA tribunal rather than the courts. Stevens, the province's former justice minister, said he didn't think that requirement could be successfully challenged under the Canadian Constitution.
"I am confident this process will stand any challenge that may come," he said. "I can't stop people from challenging things but I am satisfied the system we've put in place will stand up to any challenges that will come forward."
So far, no cases have been brought before the three-person tribunal that consists of one member from each province and a chairman selected from either side by both.
Opposition leaders have opposed the agreement.
"The concern is that it's really a race to the bottom in terms of standards, and I think the secrecy in which the government has pursued this up until now, said NDP Leader Brian Mason. How long has it been since they signed the TILMA agreement with British Columbia and they're just bringing it in now?"
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said he doubted the agreement would help address Alberta's labour shortage and he was dismayed the deal was signed last year without any public discussion or debate in the legislature.
"It illustrates or ought to illustrate how much the Alberta legislature has become a rubber stamp," he said. "The deal is done and then they bring it to the legislature."
Union leaders have been some of the biggest critics of the deal.
Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said the TILMA isn't needed and is simply a way for the government to further corporate interests.
"The reality is that workers and investment flow freely between the provinces already, so there's no real need for this kind of agreement," McGowan said. "What we're concerned about is that this agreement - which is ostensibly about labour mobility - is a Trojan Horse for something much more sinister. We think this is nothing more than a corporate bill of rights."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 15 2008
Byline: Darcy Henton
Alberta's health minister will announce plans this week for reshaping the provincial medical system in the face of rising costs and hospital overcrowding, but the fate of health regions won't be decided until summer.
Ron Liepert will bring his plans for reform to the Tory caucus as a new legislative session opens today, approximately one month after he took over as minister and promised bold changes that could include reducing the number of health regions in Alberta.
The tough-talking minister has said a broad range of proposals for change are on the table, including the controversial Mazankowski report.
But he said any decisions on the number of health regions will be announced in June.
"Our plan will lay out some initiatives we hope to accomplish over the next year," said Liepert, who will likely make the plan public on Wednesday.
"I'm not taking anything forward at this stage that will change (the number of health regions), but on or before June 15, I will take before caucus a new governance structure."
Government's plans for health reforms come as Alberta's bill for the medical system reaches $13 billion a year, making it government's single largest expense. Patients, meanwhile, are facing long lineups in emergency rooms as hospitals grapple with bed shortages.
Liepert has said the system must change, but his musings about reforms have sparked controversy as public health-care advocates and labour leaders vow to fight any move toward privatization.
The 2001 report by former federal cabinet minister Don Mazankowski recommended boosting the mix of private, public and not-for-profit providers in health care as well as raising new sources of revenue in the medical system.
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said allowing more privately delivered care will not fix the problems facing the province's health system.
"If Minister Liepert and Premier Ed Stelmach think the recent election has given them a mandate to turn the health-care system on its head, they've got another think coming," said McGowan. "There will be huge opposition to major privatization in the system."
Friends of Medicare say they are concerned about any move toward allowing more private health care, saying government should concentrate on addressing staffing shortages in Calgary and Edmonton hospitals.
Suzanne Marshall, executive director of the organization, also argued reducing the number of health regions could destabilize the system.
"It seems to me they really need to focus on the system and do whatever it takes to bring health services up to par," Marshall said.
Other organizations, however, support a move towards privatization and believe Liepert should make fundamental changes in this area.
Nadeem Esmail of the Fraser Institute said Alberta should follow the lead of countries such as Sweden, which allows private medical insurance and a private medical system that offers competition to public hospitals.
"The problem is we always look inward and ask what we can do within the current health system when it's clear this is failing Albertans," said Esmail, a senior health policy analyst with the think tank.
Liepert said his proposal will help ensure the system becomes more accessible to patients as well as sustainable. His "action plan" will lay out goals for shorter term initiatives, although it isn't clear if all of his long-term plans will be made public this week.
"There's a recognition we can't deliver 1960s health care in the 21st century," said the minister. "We have to look at different ways of delivering health care."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Mon Apr 14 2008
Byline: Michelle Lang
A number of unions in B.C. and Alberta were given little or no notice about sharing their opinions with the government on the federal temporary worker (TFW) program.
However, some groups were called upon to give a short presentation before a House of Commons Committee examining problems with the program.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is travelling across the country between March 31 and April 17 to gather information from the public about several important immigration issues including Iraqi refugees, temporary foreign workers, undocumented workers and immigration consultants.
The committee plans to visit 11 cities and hear from workers, employers, community organizations, academics and researchers, and provincial representatives.
It addressed the TFW program and stated that the study will seek lessons learned from long-standing programs, as well as strengths and weaknesses of recent developments.
Even though the federal government's stated aim was to gather information on the TFW program, union representatives from the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council (BCYT-BCTC) were not even informed about the committee and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local (IBEW) Union 424 Edmonton was given short notice to appear.
Despite this fact, both unions made a seven-minute presentation to the committee and put together a brief submission, which outlined their position and made recommendations.
"Temporary foreign workers are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, because of their work permit restrictions to a single employer, language barriers, lack of understanding of their rights, worry about their immigration status and unequal power relationship and dependence on their employer for income and information," said Wayne Peppard, executive directors of the BCYT-BCTC in his submission to the committee.
"The BCYT-BCTC is not opposed to the importation of foreign workers when there is a proven shortage of Canadian workers and provided these workers are not used as a cheap source of labour."
One union representative from Alberta agreed that the growth of the Alberta economy is putting a strain on labour availability, but he criticized the TFW program for abandoning the idea that local people should be hired first.
"We believe that there are enough electricians across Canada to deal with upcoming construction," said IBEW representative Bill Begemann, in his submission to the Committee.
"We need only to look at the training system and the available manpower pools to come up with viable solutions."
Another union representative from Alberta argued that the TFW program is being used as a first choice to fill vacancies and to hire whole crews of hundreds of workers.
"Alberta has become ground zero for what is essentially a huge social and economic experiment - an experiment that we think is in the process of going horribly wrong," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, in a submission to the committee in Edmonton.
McGowan estimates there were at least 50,000-60,000 TFWs in Alberta in 2007.
The union reps from B.C. and Alberta argued that the TFW program is characterized by broken promises, exploitation, unsafe working conditions, racism, unfair pay, intimidation and threats of deportation.
Some of the recommendations made by the unions to the committee include: setting up a royal commission to investigate the issue of TFWs and undocumented workers; monitoring and enforcing Labour Market Opinion agreements; set up advocacy centres to help TFWs get information and assistance with abusive or exploitive employers.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Mon Apr 14 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
The national Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union will be on Parliament Hill Tuesday morning welcoming returning MPs with national energy security concerns.
Enbridge's Clipper and TransCanada's Southern Lights pipelines are on CEP's mind, especially after the recent defeat of its appeal over the National Energy Board's approval of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline. That pipeline, which both the CEP and Alberta Federation of Labour have likened to a bitumen superhighway taking jobs and resources south to the U.S., and jeopardizing national energy security, will carry bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, including Wood Buffalo, into southern Illinois.
The 2,969-kilometre pipeline will have an initial nominal capacity to transport approximately 435,000 barrels per day of crude oil beginning in 2009.
In a precedent-setting move, the CEP filed an application in October 2007 asking the federal government to overturn the National Energy Board's (NEB) approval of the Keystone application. The pipeline has also received the required U.S. presidential permit, one of the last regulatory hurdles, to allow it to operate state-side.
"We petitioned cabinet and they told us politely that they had reviewed our submissions before they approved so (TransCanada) has a certificate to build the first phase," said Stephen Shrybman, CEP legal counsel. Acknowledging the federal government eventually gave consideration to the CEP application to overturn the NEB approval, Fred Wilson, CEP executive assistant, added at least the objections are on record. However, in reality, Wilson noted nothing was changed.
"They made a political decision ... in spite of our very compelling evidence," he said this morning from Ottawa.
One chief complaint the CEP has about the process is the lack of communication from the officials. "We had to contact them (twice) to find out what they'd decided," said Wilson. "They should have treated us with more respect."
But that hasn't stopped the CEP from appealing both the Enbridge Clipper and Southern Lights projects. Applications were made to cabinet in early March to overturn the NEB approvals for the two pipelines. Wilson believes the government may not have been ready to act on Keystone, but "maybe they'll act differently with these ones."
He pointed out the CEP was aware that for the government to overturn Keystone, it would have been a "significant political decision. ... It was completely warranted because the NEB is out of control."
Wilson added the board is almost "farcical" in its "ineptitude."
Canadian energy security is an issue that is lost on many because they are removed from the issue. They don't understand the connection to not only themselves but also on a national energy security level, said Shrybman.
The problem with the rest of the country, particularly eastern Canada, is it has a lot at stake.
"Obviously the issues in and around these projects have traction in Alberta and there are quite a number of people out in the province who understand what the implications are over the longer term. Unfortunately the government seems to be kind of hell-bent on pushing ahead."
He noted that even some in the industry have recognized the need for a timeout, as things are moving too fast, but the government has said "no, we're going to go ahead."
While there is some debate out there, "We're having a hard time surfacing more debate about these issues that have any kind of legs," added Shrybman.
"We're still trying to engage the federal government with these issues, and they're not responding, unfortunately," he said.
Adding to the frustration is the lack of media attention. Recalling recent headlines, Shrybman said politicians "or others will have said something homophobic (17) years ago, and of course that's much more worthy. "It really is appalling."
With Alberta jobs and resources heading south, Shrybman noted it is undermining Canada' leverage."
In terms (of) bilateral relations with the U.S., our leverage, in terms of trade and investment, is really the fact that we control the tap. But by building this infrastructure, and in light of NAFTA, we've kind of abandoned much of that."
He noted both U.S. Democratic candidates for president have indicated an interest in renegotiating NAFTA.
"From our perspective, the most important provisions of NAFTA are those that really constrain our ability to regulate exports once they begin."
Fort McMurray Today, Page 1, Mon Apr 14 2008
Byline: Carol Christian
The federal government has given the green light in the past year for more than 40,000 temporary foreign workers to come to Alberta -- setting the stage for a staggering 300 per cent jump from just three years ago.
The workers, being brought in to ease the massive labour shortage, would create a new city half the size of Red Deer if they all lived in one place.
The new data provided by Human Resources and Social Development Canada also indicate the number of temporary foreign workers could grow even larger in the coming months because "a significant number" of applications are still being processed over and above the 41,218 requests approved in the past 12 months.
The information from Ottawa focused on the Labour Market Opinions confirmed in Alberta -- a key step in bringing temporary foreign workers to Canada.
Calgary immigration lawyer Michael Greene notes that a different federal department, Citizenship and Immigration, still needs to issue a work permit for the labourers to enter Canada, but that will go through in the majority of cases.
"We are being swamped with requests from employers for temporary foreign workers because they simply can't find people," Greene said.
Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the temporary foreign worker program has been "growing like a weed."
Both the demand for workers and recent Harper government changes to the program -- meant to streamline the process for employers -- have helped, Kelly said.
Overall, Alberta employers made requests for 94,123 labourers from other countries between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008.
"The numbers don't surprise me, but they highlight the desperate need for reform to this program," said Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who has become Alberta's most outspoken critic of the temporary worker program.
"This is essentially a program that has been allowed to grow exponentially without addressing any of the very legitimate concerns that have been raised and without putting any of the necessary safeguards in place."
McGowan said the foreign worker program artificially allows employers to keep wages lower when employees are scarce, creates a lower class of worker,and will cause tensions between the temporary workers and local, permanent staff.
In 2005, just more than 10,000 temporary foreign workers entered Alberta. In late 2006, the latest year in which formal population statistics are available, there was a base population of more than 22,000 foreign workers.
As Alberta witnesses an explosion in the growth of transient labour, the government is also moving to fund immigrant settlement agencies to serve the burgeoning numbers of temporary foreign workers.
It is a first for Alberta and a rarity in Canada for a government to provide direct settlement services to temporary foreign workers.
Unlike permanent immigrants -- who are given settlement help by both Ottawa and the province -- temporary workers are in the country only at the request of a Canadian employer and have not traditionally received formal assistance from government immigration programs.
"It's tough for somebody that comes from a totally different country and different rules and regulations to feel at home on a short-term basis," Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau said last week.
"Many, many don't know their rights. They don't know all their responsibilities. They often have a hard time with language."
The provincial plan could see funding so that temporary foreign workers are given winter clothes, help with housing, meeting people from their ethnic community and navigating government red tape, the same as traditional immigrants.
Up to now, immigration centres have been stretching their budgets and staff to help foreign workers who come in off the street. Some temporary workers say they are being mistreated by employers; others just need to know where to get a driver's licence.
"We try to help them as much as possible," said Jaime Enachescu, communications co-ordinator for Immigrant Services Calgary. "We're always stretched for our services."
Temporary foreign workers are coming through their doors every day, she said.
"We're all trying, but it's not easy. And this is a new issue."
The newly sworn-in Goudreau has been tasked with increasing the number of both permanent immigrants and temporary foreign workers flowing into Alberta. During the provincial election, the Conservative campaign team touted foreign workers as a solution to many of Alberta's labour ills.
Although some have criticized both the federal and provincial governments for letting the temporary foreign worker program grow unchecked, in December the Alberta government set up two special advisory offices for the workers and established a team to investigate their workplaces.
The temporary foreign worker program is different from traditional immigration programs, as workers are allowed in only on a short-term basis if employers can't find Canadians or permanent residents to do the work.
The program used to be focused on attracting highly skilled foreign nationals and seasonal agriculture workers, but the last several years have seen dramatic growth in low-skilled workers -- who are now taking full-time jobs as dishwashers, construction workers, security guards or truck drivers.
Dale Taylor, executive director of the Centre for Newcomers, called the province's approach "realistic and sensible.
"People are coming from places where they sometimes don't have the same labour standards, or they're not enforced. So sometimes their expectations are low, and they're not aware that they have rights regarding workplace safety, labour standards and hours of work."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Sun Apr 13 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
The face of labour in this province could see a noticeable change in the weeks and months to come.
A federal agency, Human Resources & Social Development Canada, says it is processing a flood of applications from Alberta employers to bring temporary, foreign workers to our province.
That's in addition to the 41000 applications it has already approved in the last year. That total is less than half of the 94000 applications filed by employers, according to the Calgary Herald.
Immigration centers say they're having trouble keeping up with business.
At Immigrant Services Calgary, a spokesperson says, "we're always stretched for our services."
In some cases, they're dealing with clients who are being mistreated by employers, in other cases it's a newcomer who needs a driver's license.
The program has its advocates and critics.
660News, Sun Apr 13 2008
Calgary immigration lawyer Michael Greene says his office, is swamped by requests from employers who can't find employees.
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour Claims says the program allows employers to keep wages low during worker shortages, and create a lower class of worker.
660News, Sun Apr 13 2008