While the province moves to reform the temporary foreign worker program, the Alberta Federation of Labour says scrap it.
The labour group says the program is failing foreign workers and employers, and is so dysfunctional it needs to be scrapped, rather than reviewed and reformed.
"We welcome the announcement that the province is renewing funding for agencies to protect temporary foreign workers, but this $850,000 sum should be put in context," says Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, which represents 140,000 Albertans.
On Friday, the province announced it was extending funding of $850,000 to immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta. The funding has been provided to agencies in key areas including Fort McMurray. At the same time, the province will look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta's workforce, its communities, and its people to identify future programming options.
She questioned the effectiveness of the money considering it has to be spread across the entire province to protect the documented 66,000 temporary foreign workers from the exploitation and abuse witnessed on a daily basis.
"How effective will it be in protecting the tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers who are becoming an underground workforce and are even more vulnerable to abuse?" she asked.
According to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP, almost three-quarters of employers employing temporary foreign workers violated employment standards according to provincial inspections in the past year.
"We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid over-time and live in sub-standard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada," said Furlong.
While the AFL also welcomes the review of the program planned by Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, the only way to fix the program is to scrap it and replace it with immigration through regular channels.
"While our focus will always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province, making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do," said Lukaszuk in a statement announcing the funding.
Teresa Woo-Paw, Lukaszuk's parliamentary assistant, will lead a review of the impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on Alberta and bring forward her findings and recommendations by spring next year.
"The temporary foreign worker program helped to quickly fill temporary jobs during Alberta's boom, it is a program that Alberta values and will always welcome," Woo-Paw said. "Now that we have some space to breathe, let's make sure we plan and have the right services in place for the future."
However, Furlong argues that Alberta needs these workers now and will need them in the future. All who come here to work, including low-skilled workers, should be able to get on the ladder to permanent residency and citizenship, but low-skilled workers have almost no access to apply for immigration.
The TFW program is administered by the federal government, and she said the AFL is happy to help the Alberta government pressure Ottawa to scrap it and replace it with real immigration that works for foreign workers, Alberta workers and Alberta employers.
Fort McMurray Today, Tues Sept 7 2010
Byline: Carol Christian