The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) held a public forum recently to brief unions about concerns relating to the increase in use of the federal government's temporary foreign worker (TFW) program.
According to figures from the federal department of Citizenship and Immigration, there were 22,392 temporary foreign workers in Alberta in 2006, more than double the 11,067 workers who were in the province in 2003.
TFWs are employed in a wide range of economic sectors in Alberta, including oilsands operations and the construction trades.
In response to this trend, the AFL established a TFW advocate in April 2007 to offer services and assistance, free-of-charge, to foreign workers who are having difficulties at work or immigration.
The advocate is a trained legal professional in Alberta with expertise in employment issues and immigration.
As a result of the expertise developed as an advocate for TFW's in the last year, the AFL held a public forum on March 18 to discuss concerns and trends, as well as give advice to unions.
"Recently, most employers bringing temporary foreign workers into the country were non-union," said Gil McGowan, AFL president. "We held the forum, because we felt the need to give unions more information about the (TFW) program, before unions start dealing with the issue."
According to McGowan, two years ago TFW's worked predominantly in construction. However the mix is starting to change and today TFW's are overwhelmingly in low-skill work, such as cooks and chamber maids.
Another interesting trend is that the City of Calgary and several health authorities have plans to bring in a large number of TFW's.
"It is very unusual that the City of Calgary is doing it. They are looking for trades, with a focus on hiring heavy duty mechanics," said Mike Mahar, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Daily Construction News and Daily Record, Wed Apr 2 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert