Workshop calls temporary foreign worker program a ‘disaster’

A human rights expert is the keynote speaker at a workshop today, holding up Alberta's temporary foreign worker program as a failure.

Karl Flecker, director of anti-racism and human rights for the Canadian Labour Congress, will be speaking at event - The TFW Disaster: How the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is impacting Alberta's reputation - being staged by the Alberta Federation of Labour in Edmonton.

A number of temporary foreign workers are employed in the oilsands as well as in the local service and hospitality industry in Wood Buffalo.

"Canada's temporary foreign worker program is often touted as being a model program by Canadian government officials," said Flecker.

Truth is, he claims, the TFW program leads to exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous labour brokers and employers, countless experiences of workplace abuse, poor housing conditions and a systemic denial of benefits workers are entitled to receive but never see.

The AFL is hosting the workshop for two reasons, explained Gil McGowan, AFL president, this morning.

The time has come for labour and community groups to get together in order to craft a stronger message and start building a campaign in support of TFW reform and second, because the provincial government is in the process of re-evaluating the program. The AFL wants to take advantage of that re-evaluation "to put pressure on the provincial government to play a more positive role in fixing what we think is a broken system."

Teresa Woo-Paw, parliamentary secretary to Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's labour minister, who is heading the provincial review of the TFW program, has agreed to include whatever comes out of today's workshop in her review, he pointed out. Woo-Paw has been hosting meetings in different communities around the province, meeting with employers and community groups.

Though cold comfort, McGowan agreed it is something as the TFW program is a federal program so there is only so much the province can do.

"Just the fact that the provincial government is taking a second look at the temporary foreign worker program is encouraging for us because it demonstrates that we're not the only ones who are concerned that the program isn't working in the broader interest of Canadians."

About 65 people were attending the event with one-third from labour and the remainder representing immigrant settlement organizations, primarily non-profit groups such as the YMCA that work with immigrants and temporary foreign workers.

"They're the people on the front lines dealing with temporary foreign workers who have been cheated, misused or abused," said McGowan.

The AFL says the TFW program isn't working for employees or employers. It should be scrapped and replaced by a reformed immigration system that opens more paths to permanent residency and citizenship. The AFL estimates there are more than 65,000 documented foreign workers in the provinces, and tens of thousands more unregistered workers, creating a disposable workforce open to abuse.

Flecker said Canada's TFW program is not up for the job of ensuring basic human rights are upheld. "The program quite simply fails to ensure adequate workplace protections for those who toil in every single sector of the Canadian economy are in place," he said.

Fort McMurray Today, Thurs Nov 18 2010
Byline: Carol Christian

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