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
The gain drain: The conventional wisdom that immigration is an economic boon to Canada isn't holding up under scrutiny
Globalization has increased acceptance of a coffee-coloured world and provided endless supplies of skilled and other labour, so what's not to love about mass immigration?
While Canada's opposition parties quibbled over modest measures expediting the arrival of skilled immigrant workers, one answer to that question appeared in a report from the British House of Lords. Stunningly, it concludes that record levels of immigration bring no economic benefits.
The Economic Impact of Immigration argues that immigration addresses neither labour shortages nor problems associated with an aging society. Rather, low paid and young workers are being placed at a disadvantage because of competition from immigrants; worse, strains on public services and Britons being priced out of the housing market risk stoking social tensions.
According to the Telegraph, the U.K. government welcomed this contribution to its "huge immigration shake-up."
"It proves we were right to set up the independent Migration Advisory Committee to tell us which workers our new Australian-style points system should keep out or let in," said Immigration Minister Liam Byrne.
Here in Canada, few noticed the British report or even Britain's "immigration shake-up," though for similar reasons cracks have been appearing in Canada's immigration portfolio too. Now a small but growing number of academics, former civil servants and diplomats knowledgeable about Canada's complex and inefficient immigration system are speaking out. Martin Collacott and James Bissett have reached conclusions similar to the new thinking on immigration now gripping most western democracies, as did the late Bernard Ostry, while economists and professors emeritus such as Alan Green (Queen's University) and Herbert Grubel (Simon Fraser) are backing them up with far reaching data and analysis. Citizen groups, too, such as Canada Immigration Watch, are organizing to counter the vast stakeholder industry of immigration lawyers, consultants and advocacy groups that has so far monopolized Canada's immigration file. Out West, the Alberta Federation of Labour is squaring the debate with today's labour market realities.
A paper by Herbert Grubel, for instance, blames Canada's poor selection criteria and high rates of immigration for the failure of recent immigrants to achieve incomes comparable to resident Canadians, even though previous immigrants did so within 10 years of arrival. Accordingly, Immigration and the Welfare State in Canada: Growing Conflicts, Constructive Solutions published by the Fraser Institute estimates a cost to Canadian taxpayers of over $18 billion for immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 2002.
To understand Canada's selection criteria, it is helpful to see how the numbers align under Canada's two largest classes of immigrants to Canada: Economic and Family.
In 2002, 23.3 per cent of all Canadian immigrants were principal applicants, that is skilled workers who acquired sufficient points for language, skills, etc., under Canada's selection criteria to gain admission to Canada while their spouses and dependents, who are allowed automatic entry, comprised a further 30.5 per cent. Together, at 53.5 per cent of total immigrants, they made up the bulk of Canada's Economic Immigrants.
Family Class Immigrants, at 28.5 per cent of the total in 2002, are the other dominant set. Consisting of parents and grandparents (9.8 per cent) and "immediate" family members (18.7 per cent), these immigrants must be sponsored. Like parents and grandparents, the myriad cousins, uncles, in-laws, sisters and fiancées are then able to sponsor other "immediate" family members, leading to a phenomenon known as "chain" migration -- that is, an ad infinitum continuum of family links which may be far removed from the principal applicant who started the chain.
In other words, Family Class immigrants meet no selection criteria. This means they often arrive with no language or job skills and a commensurately diminished capacity for paying taxes and social integration.
The economic success of immigrants is also affected by the rate at which they arrive. Having levelled out at 0.5 per cent of the population or less after the Second World War, it skyrocketed in the 1990s to today's 1 per cent -- the highest rate in the world. These high rates, combined with slow economic growth in the 1990s, says Grubel, affected the income of new immigrants and those arriving the previous decade who now had new competition for jobs. It was in this period, too, that the number of ethnic enclaves -- defined as "census" regions where at least 30 per cent of the population is of a particular ethnic background -- rose to 254 by 2001 from six in 1981.
Despite similar economic conditions during the same period, Australian immigrants fared better than Canada's. Migrants there must fulfill a more stringent set of skills, credentials and language requirements. Australia also denies entrants social benefits for two years and admits a higher proportion of work-age immigrants. Parents of principal applicants, for instance, may enter only if the majority of their independently qualified children already reside in Australia.
Grubel, et al., offer constructive solutions to Canada's immigration quagmire but if economic realities matter, the new thinking on immigration may find its ultimate home among the stewards of today's labour market. After appearing before a Commons standing committee where he opposed employer exploitation of temporary workers, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour told me how, even in booming Alberta, there is no blanket shortage of labour.
"Overall, the market is tight but absolute shortages exist only in certain sectors. In others, like natural gas, forestry and agriculture, workers are being laid off," says Gil McGowan.
So why aren't we employing the people who are here, aboriginals for instance? Provincial training programs are what need fixing, he suggests. "Politicians have a cartoon understanding of what is happening in the labour market."
Ottawa Citizen, Sat Apr 12 2008
Byline: Margret Kopala
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 traveling 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.
"The demand for temporary foreign workers has increased considerably in recent years and shows no sign of slowing. At the same time, many workers labour here without legal status," stated a federal government press release dated March 19.
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.
The committee seeks to hear from individuals who can contribute to their understanding of this issue.
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 on March 31.
"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 on April 1.
McGowan estimates there were at least 50,000-60,000 TFW's 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 TFW's and undocumented workers; allocate significant resources for monitoring and enforcing Labour Market Opinion agreements; set up advocacy centres to help TFWs get information and get assistance with abusive or exploitive employers; allow TFWs to obtain permanent residency after two years; prohibit the charging of fees by brokers and employers and make sure permits allow TFWs to switch employers without penalty.
Journal of Commerce, Wed Apr 9 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Canada's image as a safe and secure destination for foreign temporary workers is under fire, critics say.
The government has been working hard in recent years to expand the number of temporary foreign workers who are allowed into Canada to ease what appears to be a growing labour shortage across the country.
But Canada's image as a great place to work and earn a living is being threatened as migrant workers from Mexico who say they are being mistreated are now reaching out to a United Nations special rapporteur for help.
In an interview last month, Jorge Bustamante, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, told Embassy that over the past six months, he has received about a half-dozen letters directly from Mexican migrant workers in Canada.
In the letters, the workers claim they are not receiving their proper wages and that their freedom of movement is being restricted.
The special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants position was established in 1999 by the former UN Commission on Human Rights.
The rapporteur's role is to enforce the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, and in some instances visit countries to further enforce legal frameworks in the interest of migrants.
Mr. Bustamante, who was appointed to the position in August 2005, said that before receiving the letters, he had thought the bilateral migrant worker agreement between Canada and Mexico, inked in 1974, set a good example, but now he has the opposite impression.
"The only thing is my feeling of regret that something that for so many years has gone on without complaints, now all of a sudden there are complaints," he said.
"This is something that was actually quite new to me, because before that I had the opposite impression [of Canada]. But recently I have heard reports from migrants in Canada that have complained about abuses of not allowing them to move from one job to another, their wages and things of that sort."
Mr. Bustamante, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in the United States and founder of a Mexican institute for the study of border issues, said he has sent each letter to the Canadian government. No further actions can be taken without verification of the abuses from the Canadian government, he added.
If and when he receives this verification, a report about the abuses and what steps should be taken in response is submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.
However, as yet, Canadian officials have not provided any response.
"There has been no word at all from the Canadian government," he said. "If I have any kind of credible verification, then I would report it to the UN, but since I have not verified that, then I would not report it."
Asked on Monday how the government would be responding, Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg said he would have to see what the letters say.
"We haven't received any letter from him regarding migrant workers," Mr. Solberg said.
An official in Immigration Minister Diane Finley's office referred questions to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Calls to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's office over the past two weeks were not returned.
Reports of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Canada have become a concern for many in recent months, especially in light of the country's increasing reliance on such workers.
Just last week, the issue was raised by a witness at the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration during a meeting in Moose Jaw, Sask.
Limits Bring Problems
Testifying before visiting MPs on April 2, Eric Johansen, director of the Saskatchewan government's Immigration Nominee Program, said limits on the ability of migrant workers to move within the labour market puts them at risk.
"Temporary foreign workers are particularly vulnerable in our labour market as they don't have the mobility that other individuals in the labour market do," Mr. Johansen said. "So we think it's very important that we take extra measures to work with this group of individuals, ensure that they understand the protection afforded to them under provincial legislation.
"And we want to find mechanisms to ensure that commitments made by employers to temporary foreign workers are indeed, under a labour market opinion, being followed through."
Also testifying before the committee last week was Yessy Byl, a temporary foreign worker advocate at the Alberta Federation of Labour, who told MPs that brokers and employers are exploiting workers by illegally charging recruitment fees and housing them in poor conditions.
"Alberta's temporary foreign worker program is inherently exploitive and treats people as disposable. I can assure you that Canada's reputation in foreign countries has suffered a great deal," Ms. Byl told committee members.
In response to an increasing number of complaints received by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the advocate position was created last year.
In a six-month report, Ms. Byl, an Edmonton lawyer, reported opening 123 case files for foreign workers. The cases involved migrant workers reporting poor working conditions and lower wages than were promised.
In her conclusion, Ms. Byl wrote that "there are deep and troubling flaws in the program, both in its structure and operation."
"The rapid expansion of the program has been an unqualified disaster and it is the most vulnerable participants-foreign workers-who are feeling the brunt of the pain."
Over the last two years, the Conservative government has expanded the Temporary Foreign Workers program to admit a greater number of workers by easing the bureaucracy Canadian employers have to navigate in order to hire workers from abroad.
Rather than advertise a job for six weeks, most employers need only advertise through the government's "Job Bank" for seven days before seeking workers from abroad.
Tanya Basok, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Windsor who has done extensive research on migrant workers, said the restriction on workers' freedom to change jobs is a major issue because under the agreement, these restrictions are not a violation.
Removing this restriction is a fundamental component to improving the program, said Ms. Basok, because workers rely on a good letter of recommendation from their Canadian employers, and a negative review could impede their chances of returning, "leaving many too afraid to speak out against their employer."
Changing Jobs Unrealistic
Rodolfo Diaz, co-ordinator of political and migratory issues at the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa, said that once in the program, workers make a commitment to an employer, and that it is unrealistic to expect they can switch jobs once in Canada.
"That is part of this program, it is temporary, and as any temporary worker you have agreed you are to go back to Mexico," Mr. Diaz said. "We do believe that the program is successful, a great number of workers are re-hired, they have access to pensions from the Canadian government."
Mr. Diaz said there are already mechanisms in place to inform workers of their rights, their due pay, and an emergency number to call for help, such as pamphlets written in English and Spanish handed out upon arrival.
In addition, Mr. Diaz said there are regular meetings between regional and federal officials, and aspects of the program are constantly being reviewed.
He said the Mexican and Canadian governments are very proud of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which started in 1974 and has brought more than 162,000 Mexicans to work in Canada.
From 2002 through 2006, Mr. Diaz said, more than 56,000 workers came through the program; during this time, 73 cases were opened in response to letters from Mexican workers sent to the consulates in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Of the complaints received, Mr. Diaz said, most are based on conflicts and disagreements that require mediation, and that they are rarely about pay.
Mr. Diaz would not comment on the matter between the UN rapporteur and the Canadian government, except to say he trusts the Canadian government will respond at the right time.
Liberal Labour critic Judy Sgro, who served as immigration minister from 2003 to 2005, called the situation an embarassment and a black-eye for Canada's reputation.
"For them to refer these issues to the rapporteur at the United Nations, this is not something that's done lightly by any of the people writing," Ms. Sgro said.
"Frankly, I'd like to see an immediate response and an investigation into their complaints. We have an obligation when we let these workers in under various categories, that they have safe working conditions."
NDP Labour critic Libby Davies said the massive increase in the number of foreign workers coming to Canada over the last 10 years has led to serious problems.
"We think the Conservative government must review the foreign workers program," Ms. Davies said. "It is developing so rapidly, there are so many complaints of exploitation, of abuse of foreign workers. There's not been any monitoring or enforcement mechanisms, there has to be a way to track where foreign workers are.
"So if the UN special rapporteur has taken note of it and sent a letter to the government, we're very glad to hear about that; the government needs to take note."
Embassy Canada's Foreign Policy Newsletter, Wed Apr 9 2008
Byline: Michelle Collins
EDMONTON - Alberta's temporary foreign worker program has no oversight and is mired in so much bureaucracy that employers are allowed to treat hopeful immigrants like indentured labour.
That's what a federal committee travelling Canada to examine immigration issues heard in Edmonton on Tuesday during a lengthy meeting in which several interest groups blasted the provincial and federal governments.
"Alberta's temporary foreign worker program is inherently exploitive and treats people as disposable. I can assure you Canada's reputation in foreign countries has suffered a great deal," Yessy Byl of the Alberta Federation of Labour told the committee.
Her comments were echoed by other groups including the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and Ukrainian Canadian Social Services.
All agreed that temporary foreign worker programs would not be as burdened if the federal immigration department weren't so maddeningly inefficient.
"Of the hundreds of workers I've dealt with in the last two years, almost all have come here not to work but to emigrate," Byl said. "They are using the TFW program because our immigration system is so dysfunctional."
She said there is currently no system by which the workers that are so desperately needed can be legitimized.
"In the meantime, brokers and employers bringing these workers here are running around unchecked, illegally charging recruitment fees, housing workers in homes with up to 14 other people and making huge sums of money renting out houses.
"People are being lured here with the promise of $12 an hour jobs only to arrive and find themselves on the wrong side of the poverty line."
Other speakers said Canadian foreign embassies eastern Europe make it notoriously difficult for people to enter Canada.
"On the one hand we have this great campaign encouraging foreigners to emigrate to Canada, yet on the other hand we have an immigration system that makes that increasingly difficult," said Bill Diachuk of the Ukrainian group.
Truro Daily News, Mon Apr 7 2008
Foreign workers exploited by temporary job plan: National program used for 'end-run around mainline immigration system'
EDMONTON - Gil McGowan would say Puneet Puneet is an example of what's wrong with Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker program, which he says is not only exploitive but a clear indication of the country's dysfunctional immigration system.
Puneet lost his job when Dell recently closed its call centre and is now "stranded" in a foreign country with few options for other employment.
He is among a handful of Dell workers who came here from India several months ago with two-year work permits and aspirations of a rosier economic future. Now he has to find another job or return to India.
"There are other companies interested in hiring me, but my work visa is specifically tied to Dell and nobody wants to go through the process of having it transferred," said Puneet, a technical support worker.
Allowing temporary foreign workers more latitude to get other jobs if they're laid off or find themselves in an untenable situation were among recommendations made to the House of Commons standing committee on citizenship and immigration Tuesday in Edmonton. The committee is on a cross-country trip to gather information about the program.
McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, was one of the presenters.
He said Alberta, because of its ongoing labour woes, has become "ground zero" for the Temporary Foreign Worker program, which has expanded into "a huge social and economic experiment that's in the process of going horribly wrong."
Jim Gurnett said social agencies such as his are bearing the brunt of the fallout from that experiment.
"This enthusiasm for temporary foreign workers is a dangerous and incorrect direction to go," said Gurnett, director of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
The program has been around for 40 years, but McGowan said until recently it was used to bring about 7,000 or so workers to Alberta every year.
In 2006, the last full year for which statistics are available, nearly 24,000 workers were brought here under the program, the first time in Canada's history that a province brought more people into the country as temporary foreign workers than under the mainstream immigration program.
"Clearly, the Temporary Foreign Worker program is no longer a sleepy corner
of the federal bureaucracy," said
McGowan. "And clearly, it's being used to do an end-run around the mainline immigration system."
Edmonton lawyer Yessy Byl, who is also the federation's Temporary Foreign Worker advocate, told the committee the program has created a class of "disposable workers" who have few rights and fewer options.
"There are a huge number of brokers who are having a field day" by abusing vulnerable workers and charging them illegal placement fees, said Byl.
She called for some kind of regulatory body to oversee such brokers, who are also referred to as recruiters or immigration consultants.
The provincial government revealed Monday that it has received more than 800 complaints from foreign labourers in the past 31/2 months, most involving perceived unfair wage deductions, fees charged by recruitment agencies and accommodation issues.
Mike Percy, dean of business at the University of Alberta, said miscommunication and sheer volume are likely at the root of many of these complaints, but said they need to be dealt with quickly.
"We need to be transparent in terms of the rules and in terms of the expectations of all parties.
"Eight hundred is a large number, and some of that is driven by the sheer volume of foreign workers and miscommunication on the part of these brokers.
"Some of that miscommunication may be intentional, and if it is, we need to deal with it as harshly as we can," Percy said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers also made presentations to the committee.
Both unions represent thousands of workers in the two sectors that have seen the most dramatic spikes in the use of temporary foreign workers -- the construction and service sectors.
Edmonton Coun. Amerjeet Sohi, meanwhile, is doing what he can to help Puneet and some of the other workers laid off because of the Dell call-centre closure, which put more than 900 people out of work.
He said he tried to contact the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, which signed the deal with Dell three years ago to establish its operation here, and discovered its president Ron Gilbertson is overseas with Mayor Stephen Mandel trying to recruit foreign workers.
"And here you have people who will be shipped back home," said Sohi. "That's the irony."
Edmonton Journal, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Jamie Hall, with files from Susan Ruttan
Anyone working for minimum wage will be glad to know they're getting a raise, but employers might find their payroll getting tighter as they have to raise wages across the board.
Although the Alberta government's decision to introduce an automatic increase to the minimum wage in the province was well received by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the group's president, Gil McGowan, said the minimum wage is still too low.
As of yesterday, the minimum wage rose to $8.40 from $8.00.
"Is it mathematically possible to earn a living in Alberta on that wage?" asked David Swan, member of the Vulcan and District Chamber of Commerce. "If you can't live on it, it's moot."
According to McGowan and the AFL, the minimum wage should be $10 an hour.
"Let's start with a realistic and fair minimum wage -- and then take it from there," he said.
But Alberta boasts one of the highest minimum wages in the country, said Scott Mitchell, owner of Market Street Foods.
"Honestly, I think it's getting a little ridiculous," said William Pilon, manager of the A&W, about the hike. "I have no problem with it, I understand the need with the growing economy, but once a year is enough."
The minimum wage had already increased by one dollar to $8 an hour on Sept. 1, 2007, and re-adjusting wages barely six months later is a pain, Pilon said.
"You're not just adapting for new staff, but for all existing staff," he said.
Just because someone's hourly wage is already more than the minimum wage, doesn't mean they wouldn't also get a raise.
After all, if someone's worked for a long period of time and a new employee comes in earning more, problems can arise.
"We're having a hard enough time finding staff as it is," Pilon told the Advocate last week, at which point he'd received one application in two weeks for a position he'd advertised.
Out of an ideal staff of about 25, Pilon's roster sits at 14, having recently lost some staff, he said.
A&W has been working on a program to bring in foreign workers, which is something Pilon has been looking into.
Being so short of staff puts him in the position where he doesn't have much in the way of other options, even if he would rather hire within the community, he said.
Some employees aren't that impressed by the minimum wage hike; either.
"Basically, nothing is changing, it's just the numbers going up -- but it's a nice thought," said Jayleen Kolody, who's worked at A&W since June.
With the base prices of living constantly rising in Alberta, such as rent, food and gas, the increase to the minimum wage will have a negligible effect, she said.
Agreeing that people should make more with the growing economy and increasing living costs, Pilon said it hurts the employer in the long run.
"It'll probably end up affecting the small business person to the point where they can't employ as many younger staff," said Mitchell.
Vulcan Advocate, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Simon Ducatel
Temporary foreign workers infected with scabies, but still made to work was just one horror story related to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The committee was in Edmonton Tuesday where it got an earful from union and labour representatives, who slammed the program. The visit is part of a cross-country tour set to gather information for a report the standing committee is preparing for Parliament on the temporary foreign worker program -- which is administered by the federal government through citizenship and Immigration plus Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC).
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), wasn't too optimistic whether the committee understood the severity of the abuses he says are being committed under the program. McGowan, along with Mike Toal of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, stressed the need for workers to be eligible for immigration rather than being exploited as a disposable workforce.
The opposition members were more receptive to the presentations, while government (Tory) MPs repeated the same lines: temporary foreign workers are the only answer to the tight labour market, said McGowan.
He added they don't seem to understand they're creating an underclass of exploitable workers.
The hearings are to cumulate with a report expected next fall. What purpose this report will serve is unknown. "Several members of the committee seemed determined to make some changes to the system, but whether it will be anything more than tinkering is an open question," said the labour leader.
Acknowledging Canada needs workers, "We shouldn't be bringing them in as indentured servants," McGowan recounted this morning. "We should be bringing them in as prospective citizens with full rights."
He added temporary foreign workers are increasingly being used to keep wages down and an excuse for employers not to train the next generation of tradespeople.
McGowan noted there's also a vast Aboriginal population in Canada also being overlooked. He accuses employers of not doing what needs to be done: training more people here in Alberta and pushing for real reform to the immigration program as opposed to this "temporary program which is just a Band-Aid."
One story Toal related concerned 17 workers from El Salvador. Employed in Edmonton, their employer provided housing, a side-by-side duplex with nine workers in one side, and eight in the other. He pointed out that Edmonton's tenancy laws state only five unrelated adults can live in one residence.
Each side had two bathrooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. In one of the units the downstairs toilet didn't work. The employer also provided bedding that were unsanitized hand-me-downs.
"A couple of the guys contracted scabies," recalled Toal. "The employer was aware, took them to a doctor, but still kept them at work ... in the chicken processing plant." The employer did not inform their co-workers there was an outbreak of a contagious disease, and a co-worker contracted scabies.
A claim was made to the Workers Compensation Board which duly accepted that claim.
These incidents date back to September 2007.
Scabies is an easily transmissible skin infection that causes intense itch, particularly between the fingers and skin folds where the scabies parasite burrows. It is common in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
The workers have since recovered, and are still working at the plant.
The employers' response to the workers' living conditions was: "It's a darn sight better from what they came from," said Toal. "And that's from a major Canada-wide employer."
The federal committee's response to this story? Nothing, recalled Toal. He believes, as does McGowan, the committee was looking to defend the federal side of the program and pass the buck to the provincial government. He added there is no policing of the program, that the federal government circumvents its own stipulations in the work permits.
These temporary workers pay contributions to CPP, and EI as well as income tax yet will ever receive any benefits.
"We should be giving them points off the immigration system," he added. "If we're fast-tracking them to work here, at least give them the opportunity to stay here through proper immigration channels to obtain residency."
Fort McMurray Today, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Carol Christian
On April 1, Alberta's minimum wage increased from $8 to $8.40 per hour. In June 2007 the Alberta government announced the increase to minimum wage would be based on the average weekly wage index. The index is based on Statistics Canada's annual survey of employment, payroll and hours.
Ponoka-Lacombe MLA Ray Prins thinks that the increase is a positive move.
"I think it is a good move. It is keeping up with the general inflation with rates over the province. We have tied it to the average weekly wage index so this is a good move for people on minimum wage," said Prins. "All jobs have a value according to supply and demand and the minimum wage is basically a starting wage for young people or low skill people or part-time jobs."
Michelle Stirling, job search advisor for Ponoka Employment Services, a sub-contractor to Alberta employment and immigration thought it was a step forward. However, she thinks that the cost of living in most centres is much higher than this incremental raise.
"For the employer any change in the wage ratio has an impact on their margins so even though employees would like and need a higher raise employers always have to struggle with the consequences, especially smaller business," said Stirling.
With the current increase Alberta's minimum wage remains the highest in Canada after taxes. Before taxes, Alberta will have the third highest minimum wage among provinces behind Ontario ($8.75) and Manitoba ($8.50).
"I'd say most people are paying above that anyway it is such a volatile economy right now. I suspect we are going to see rises in things such as food with the rising prices of oil world wide," said Stirling. "So these types of increases will always be a bit behind because they are legislated and there is a whole process involved with a wage change and it takes time."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business Alberta director Danielle Smith had a few problems with the increase. She thought that there was a lack of consultation with businesses and that businesses were not given enough time to adjust to the new announcement. In June 2007, the increase was announced, it increased from $7 to $8 on Sept. 1, 2007 and went from $8 to $8.40 on April 1, which was announced on March 18.
Prins said that in the future the notice will not be a problem.
"Industry now knows that minimum wage will be connected to the average minimum wage index and from time to time there may be an increase, if this goes down the minimum wage will not go down," said Prins.
Smith says that most of the employers have had to increase wages and that very few people are currently making minimum wage. Those who are making minimum wage are in the hospitality industry and low skill workers. She also feels that the new increase will have a large impact on all employers.
"When minimum wage goes up it causes wage inflation because somebody who is currently making $8.40 an hour they now want an increase as well," said Smith. "There are lots of occupations where they try to keep a certain differential, you can see this bump up a wage scale of a variety of contracts. It has a much broader effect on the overall cost of the salaries that are being paid to workers." The CFIB's annual Help Wanted report showed that 6.3 per cent of jobs in Alberta firms went unfilled for at least four months in 2007, the same as in 2006. They estimate that is the equivalent of 54,000 jobs.
Prins hopes that the wage increase will help the work shortage.
"In general it is a move in the right direction for people on minimum wage. The whole shortage of labour in Alberta is a problem for employers right across the board hopefully this will help a little bit to attract some workers into the work force."
The Alberta Federation of Labour approved of the increase but president Gil McGowan said it was not enough.
"We estimate that a living wage right now in the province would have to be at least $10 per hour. What the government needs is a minimum wage that actually reflects the high cost of living in Alberta," said McGowan in a press release. "A minimum wage, after all should prevent full-time workers from living below the poverty line."
The 2007 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey was commissioned by the governments of Alberta and Canada to provide information on wages and salaries for full and part-time employers by occupation, region and industry. Nearly 3,000 employers participated in the survey covering more than 400 different occupations and representing almost 200,000 full and part-time employees.
The survey found that Alberta's average wage rate was $23.90 per hour. Cashiers in Alberta were on average making $9.63, administrative clerks made $19.23, oil and gas workers $30.12 and managers in health care made $34.49.
In the Red Deer region food and beverage servers made $8.59 compared to the provincial average of $8.78. Truck drivers in the Red Deer region made $18.91 compared to the provincial average of $24.71. Accountants in the Red Deer region made $41.85 compared to the provincial average of $25.66.
Ponoka News, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Tiffany Williams
When people find out they are going to be making more money, it is usually cause for celebration. The recent increase of Alberta's minimum wage however, has launched a new episode of debate on the fallout of increasing base earnings in the province.
While the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) was pleased with the recent minimum wage hike, they claim it still isn't enough to match the cost of living. "The province's senior labour central contends that the increase is too small because the base rate is too low." On April 1 of 2008, the minimum wage will increase from the current $8 an hour standard to $8.40.
The AFL's position is that while they welcome any increase in the minimum wage, the recent hike just isn't enough. AFL President Gil McGowan says, "We estimate that a living wage right now in the province would have to be at least $10 per hour. So the government-mandated increase to $8.40 per hour as of April 1 this year is actually very disappointing."
In 2007, average weekly earnings increased 5 per cent, so minimum wage will increase 5 per cent from $8.00 to $8.40 per hour. "The problem with linking minimum wage increases to the growth in average weekly earnings is that it assumes that the phenomenal growth taking place in some municipalities and industry sectors is happening everywhere," said the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, which contends that the increase will hurt small business owners. "This change could have a severely negative impact on employers in certain regions and industry sectors that are not experiencing a sharp increase in economic growth, particularly smaller municipalities and the restaurant and tourism industry."
In a resource-based economy like Alberta's, where the economy continually fluctuates, therecould easily be a situation where entry-level labour is priced too high. That could in the long run decrease the number of jobs, especially for entry-level workers.
British Columbia addressed this problem by creating a lower minimum wage for entry level workers, which is basically a "training wage" that allows business owners to compensate for the investment required to train new employees. Quebec and Nova Scotia have similar alternatives.
As of January 1, 2008, Alberta ranked near the middle of Canadian provinces in minimum wage, even though Alberta does have the lowest income taxes of any Canadian province. Ontario's minimum wage is scheduled to exceed $10 in 2009, and even with the increase, Alberta will still be below the minimum wage standards in Nunavut, Manitoba and the Yukon.
According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) survey, in 2007 Calgary and Edmonton had the highest costs of living of any major Canadian city. That statistic is very surprising, in light of the fact that Calgary and Edmonton were being compared to cities who are generally thought of as having higher costs of living: cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa. The CPI statistics are based on the costs of housing, household items, food, transportation, etc. In fact, the index showed that Alberta cities hadmuch higher costs of living than did any of the cities with a higher minimum wage.
Those that oppose minimum wage increases say that it leads to major problems, especially for small business owners. A higher minimum wage, they claim, can lead to higher unemployment, increases in prices to consumers, less recruitment of new employees, and less employee benefits.
The AFL says that right now in Alberta, there are only about 70,000 workers making minimum wage, with many more earning an hourly wage just above the minimum. "What Alberta workers need is a minimum wage that actually reflects the high cost of living in Alberta," said McGowan. "A minimum wage, after all, should prevent full-time workers from living below the poverty line."
That poverty line in the year 2000, for a family of four, was just above $32,000 in the city of Calgary. After the increase in April, making $8.40 an hour, the average worker putting in 40 hours a week with no vacation would gross little over $17,000 annually, before taxes. It should also be noted that Edmonton has recently experienced the highest increase in poverty of any Alberta city.
Premier Stelmach has said that only 3.5 per cent of Albertans earn minimum wage, with most of those being teenagers. However, raising the minimum wage has an impact on all hourly wage earners. Even with a minimum wage increase to $10 an hour, working 40 hours a week with no vacation, the Alberta worker earning minimum wage would barely eclipse the $21,000 annual earnings mark, still well below the year 2000 poverty line.
While it is a relatively low number of workers in the province that currently earn minimum wage, it is apparent that those workers are not able to sustain themselves, and that conclusion is reached using eight-year-old statistics. Since the year 2000, the cost of living has climbed dramatically. While there are consequences for increases in minimum wages, it does go a long way in improving the quality of life for those Albertans presently earning minimum wage who can barely get by, and has recipricol effects on thousands of other workers.
Barrhead Leader, Tues Apr 1 2008
Byline: Andrew Coffey