Alberta Federation of Labour to call for inquiry in light of growing evidence of fraud
Edmonton – A list of fast-tracked temporary foreign worker applications shows that scandals at Royal Bank and HD Mining are just the tip of the iceberg.
The document, which the Alberta Federation of Labour will release at a press conference on Tuesday, April 9, lists all approved TFW applications in the first eight months of the new Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) process. Thousands of ALMO guest worker permits – which are supposed to be reserved for highly-skilled employment – have been granted to fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.
"You look down this list, and it's McDonalds, Tim Hortons, A&W, Subway sandwiches. Are we supposed to believe that these are 'high-skill' employment opportunities?" Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. "These permits are being used to replace Canadian workers with people who will have reduced bargaining power."
What: Alberta Federation of Labour to release list of Temporary Foreign Worker program "high-skilled" employer list
Where: Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe Hotel
River Valley Room, Lobby Level
10111 Bellamy Hill Rd NW, Edmonton
When: 1:30 PM, Tuesday, April 9
Who: Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email [email protected]
The latest federal budget is "an insult to Canadians," says Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, who says the government's promise to promote Canadians over the Temporary Foreign Worker program will not encourage the private sector to hire more Canadians.
"It has become far too easy for companies, especially construction companies like in Fort McMurray, to choose foreign workers over the next generation of Canadian workers," says McGowan. "In its current form, it's way too easy for employers to fill positions with foreign workers as opposed to taking on apprentices."
Thursday's budget primarily shifts Ottawa's support behind trades programs to drive Canada's economy, encouraging the private sector to play a bigger role in recruiting workers and training unemployed workers for in-demand jobs.
The goal is to fill nearly 220,000 job vacancies across Canada by reaching out to the disabled, youth and aboriginals.
"Training Canadians for Canadian jobs is clearly the message we have," said Fort McMurray-Athabasca MP Brian Jean on Thursday. "You can see it's a growth economy budget."
However, a recent report from the AFL says companies are still turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
"It's clear that the Harper government is sucking and blowing when it comes to foreign workers," says McGowan. "On one hand, they claim the budget is all about training Canadians to fill job vacancies. On the other hand, they are still going to promote the expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker program."
A record of 213,516 temporary workers came to Canada in 2012, up from 190,575 in 2011. In Alberta, McGowan says there are now more temporary workers than immigrants.
"There are enough Canadians to fill these jobs if employers and government gets serious about training the next generation of Canadians," he says. "Even with this budget, I'm not convinced they've gotten serious about that."
McGowan singled out the province's non-unionized construction industry as being one of the worst abusers of the program, because it's cheaper to bring in skilled workers than to train new apprentices. He also says these workers are paid, on average, 15% less than their Canadian counterparts.
As a result, non-unionized construction firms are able to outbid unionized firms for contracts with the money saved. McGowan says he would feel better about the program if employers who hired a certain number of Canadians, particularly apprentices, were the only ones getting access to foreign workers.
"Keep in mind that we are not against immigration. Canada was built on the backs of hard working immigrants," says McGowan. "This is not immigration. This is a program that uses foreign workers the way we use post-it notes, something we just throw away when we're done."
He also says the program is unfair to the workers, because many are under the impression they can become citizens once their work permits expire. Instead, most are forced to leave.
"I'd say 80% to 90% want to stay, bring their families over. But for most, especially the lower skilled workers, that won't happen," he says. "The ones working in the very low-skilled jobs, like behind the counter at McDonald's or Tim Hortons, they have no hope of ever becoming citizens."
Fort McMurray Today, Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
Byline: Vincent McDermott
Petroleum Human Resources Council acquired by Enform Canada
CALGARY — The end of the $17.5-million federal sector council program has forced the marriage of the oil and gas industry's safety and human resources associations in Calgary.
The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, created as a sector council to study industry labour needs in 2001, announced on Monday that it will officially be acquired by safety training group Enform Canada.
The change will result in a staff reduction at the HR Council to eight from 13 as well as a reduced mandate as it focuses on its labour market analysis and careers information functions.
"The prime driver of this is the cancellation of the federal government's sector council program effective March 31," said Cheryl Knight, executive director of the HR Council, who will give up her title as chief executive.
"The acquisition by Enform of us is enabling us to continue to be an industry-directed non-profit association with support from industry but we can continue to access federal and provincial funding through projects."
She said Canada's 35 sector councils were notified in July 2011 their funding, $500,000 each per year, would disappear at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
In the case of the HR council, that added up to 75 per cent of its core budget.
The program's end comes a week after a federal budget which included the new Canada job grant program to fund training for the skills and trades most hurt by a lack of trained workers.
The program gives workers up to $15,000 in job training funds: $5,000 each from the federal government, the provinces and their employers.
The sector councils were also designed to address skills development issues in partnership with industry in key sectors of the economy.
Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, an HR Council supporter, said she's confident that industry will "step up" to continue work on safety and skills development, aided by federal government programs such as the job grants.
"The key is to back up and recognize there is a combination of research, of training programs, of demographic forecasting, all of which will need to continue in various ways," she said.
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the changes at the HR Council represent a setback for skills needs planning in Alberta because of less worker imput.
"These (sector councils) are the last organizations where working people had a real voice at the table," he said.
"Their function may continue with Enform but the process of tripartite (government, industry, worker) consultation is almost certainly going down the tubes."
Knight said the HR Council will do less in the areas of creating employer tools and working on immigrant employment but will continue to operate an oil and gas careers website with a job board.
Enform is a non-profit organization created by the oil and gas industry to promote safety standards in Canada's upstream industry through training, certifications, services and resources.
"The acquisition gives us access to valuable information and expertise to better align our training and safety services to industry workforce issues," said Enform president and CEO Cameron MacGillivray in a news release.
The two groups are supported by many of the same industry associations, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, and they share office space at 5055 11th St. N.E.
Enform, with 120 staff, also has training centres near Edmonton and at Fort St. John, B.C., plus an office in Regina.
The HR Council is often cited in the media in stories about skills needs, such as a warning last spring that Canada's oil and gas industry will need to fill a minimum of 9,500 jobs by 2015.
Other sector councils have also turned to the private sector to fill the gap in funding.
Robert Donald, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace, said Monday his group also shares office space to cut costs.
He added the organization's mandate has been expanded to appeal to a greater range of industry sponsors and a magazine it once published has been cancelled.
Another Ottawa-based sector council, the Aboriginal Human Resources Council, says on its website it is trying to increase private sector funding to make up for the $500,000 gap in its annual budget of $3 million to $4 million.
The Edmonton Journal, Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
Byline: Dan Healing, The Calgary Herald
CALGARY - Alberta business groups say a rejigged skills training program included in the most recent federal budget could offer some relief for the province's tight labour market.
Travis Davies of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says connecting the right workers with the right jobs is a "huge challenge" in the oilpatch, where skilled tradespeople such as pipefitters and plumbers are in high demand.
"To the degree that you can get support from both the federal government and the provincial government, it's very positive," he said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made skills training a centrepiece of the 2013-14 budget with the Canada Job Grant.
Ottawa, provincial governments and employers would each shoulder a third of the $15,000 training grant, which is expected to come into effect about a year from now.
Ottawa still needs to get the provinces on side with the plan, and Quebec and Ontario have already expressed misgivings.
But in the West, where unemployment rates are very low, the idea is being embraced.
The man in charge of recruitment at oil producer Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX:CVE) called the announcement "exciting."
"I think it provides an opportunity and incentive for all appropriate stakeholders to work more closely together," he said.
"I think it's important to recognize that this is a piece of the puzzle. It's not something that was announced to be the ultimate solution."
Ben Brunnen, chief economist at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, called the job grant a "great first step" that is "key to helping to alleviate the labour challenges."
"What that does is it ensures that the provinces and the federal government and employers get together at the same table to make sure they get the right people with the right skills in the right job."
The labour tightness is not restricted to Alberta's all-important oil and gas industry, Brunnen said. The tourism and hospitality industries, for instance, are also having a tough time.
"It definitely permeates across the Alberta economy," he said. "There are particular occupations under pressure in Alberta that are confronted with relatively chronic shortages and increasingly, employers have been focusing on overseas and immigrants as solutions to the labour challenges."
Brunnen said the chamber also likes that there will be more of a focus on attracting talent within Canada than from overseas.
"That's been the big issue for employers — yes, there might be some Canadians that are unemployed but they just don't have the skills that we're looking for."
However, there are challenges in attracting workers to Alberta that don't have to do with training, Brunnen conceded.
"A lot of the demand for the energy sector is happening in the field, in the oilpatch. Those are in locations that are sometimes a little bit difficult to work in, or are sometimes a little bit remote."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the government's job training promises amount to a "fraud" so long as the temporary foreign worker program is an option.
The budget did include some new rules making it harder for employers to rely on the temporary foreign worker program.
"Employers in this country are not going to train workers aggressively as long as they have the option to use cheap, exploitable workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker program," said McGowan.
"We'll never have a system that actually promotes the training of the next generation of skilled trades as long as the temporary foreign worker program is continuously expanded, which is exactly what we've been seeing with the Harper government over the last five years."
Victoria Times Colonist, Friday, Mar. 22, 2013
Byline: Lauren Krugel, Canadian Press
Significant numbers of temporary foreign workers continued to move to Alberta even as the economy shed jobs during the recession, says a new report from the province's largest labour group.
The draft report from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) found that although overall Alberta employment numbers dropped in 2009 and 2010, companies continued to bring in new temporary foreign workers in a hiring spree that first ramped up during the province's boom years. While the umbrella union group agreed there are true shortages of workers in a few trades and skills, the numbers show the real scarcity is in the "people willing to work for less," the group said
The issue of temporary foreign workers is of special concern in Alberta. In recent years, Alberta employers have been granted more than half of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's approvals (called Labour Market Opinions) to bring in low-skilled temporary foreign workers, many of them destined for service jobs.
Unions and other critics say the temporary workers are more likely to be exploited by employers and the federal program drives down wages, while firms with an eye on expansion say they have no choice but to look overseas for employees.
"It's really very tough to hire," said Bobby Maglalang, human resources manager at Calgary-based Hi-Flyer Food (Canada) Inc., which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchises in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec.
In Alberta, Hi-Flyer Food has 110 temporary foreign workers – more than a quarter of its current staff – on its payroll, and is short more than 200 workers across the province. Mr. Maglalang said even the lowest-paid "team member" makes more than minimum wage, and it's not a matter of paying temporary foreign workers less than Canadians or permanent residents. The real issue is that restaurant owners can't match salaries paid by the oil and gas industry. "We need more workers. If only we could avoid hiring foreign workers."
Richard Truscott, Alberta director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said given the amount of red tape and cost involved in hiring foreign workers, most businesses would rather forgo the process. But he said there are just not enough Canadians willing to do some jobs. Mr. Truscott said the numbers compiled by the AFL might be explained by the cyclical nature of the economy and the "lag effect" in the federal program. Many business owners were caught off guard by the downturn that followed the boom years of 2006-2008, he said. "By the time those individuals arrived and were being integrated into the business, the economy had gone sour," Mr. Truscott said.
The draft report from the AFL said in 2009, while unemployment rose and a net 28,500 jobs were lost, Ottawa still allowed provincial employers to bring in 28,545 new temporary foreign workers. In 2010, 8,600 Alberta jobs were lost but 22,992 new temporary workers came in.
In the same three years and up to 2011 as the economy began to improve, the number of temporary foreign workers living in the province stayed between 58,000 and 66,000.
Speaking during a visit to Fort McMurray, AFL president Gil McGowan said while the Harper government says it wants Thursday's federal budget to breathe new life into trades and skills training, it is not really pushing companies to take apprenticeship programs seriously. He noted under new rules brought in last April, some employers can now pay temporary workers 5- to 15-per-cent less than the prevailing wage for Canadians.
"Through the temporary foreign worker program, they're actually distorting the labour market," Mr. McGowan said.
The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
So-called ‘studies’ on public sector workers really an attack on women’s pay
Edmonton – On International Women’s Day, the Alberta Federation of Labour released a new study of women in Alberta’s public sector.
The study showed Alberta women in the public sector have earnings virtually identical to women in the private sector, putting a lie to the claim that Alberta’s public sector workers are overpaid.
Only low-wage occupations in Alberta showed a significant pay advantage in the public sector, and even then, only for women.
The data shows Alberta women are better off in the public sector because they benefit from pay equity, or equal pay for work of equal value.
The majority of public sector workers in Alberta are women. Attempts to roll back public sector wages are attempts to roll back women’s wages. Women in both the private and public sector, regardless of occupation category, earn less than men.
“What this study shows is that the struggles of unions and the women’s movement have paid off for Alberta women,” AFL Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Furlong says. “If women have the protection of a union and a public sector job, they have a shot at pay equity, and that’s good news for all Albertans.”
Alberta men earn significantly more in the private sector than they do in public sector jobs. The private sector advantage for men across all occupations was seven per cent, suggesting Alberta’s public service is underpaid relative to their private sector counterparts.
Alberta has the highest pay gap in Canada. Alberta women working full year and full time earn a median 68 per cent of what men earn.The pay gap is reduced for women in unions – to about 85 per cent of what men earn.
The latest AFL analysis of women’s wages in the public and private sectors is the first of a series of studies on wages in Alberta.
The AFL’s research is particularly important in light of the all-out war that right-wing front groups have been waging against the public sector in Alberta. Groups such as the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and the University of Calgary School of Public Policy have all stepped up their attempts to undermine Alberta’s health care, education, and social services sectors, open up these services to privatization, and undermine wage gains economy-wide.
“The Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, and the old boys club over at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy would like to rewind us back to the 1950s before women started joining unions and winning victories for equal pay,” Furlong says.
Furlong notes that women in the private sector who are not unionized should look into joining a union if they want to work toward equal pay for women.
“If right-wing lobbyists had their way, we’d go back to a time when women did comparable work to men but earned significantly less,” Furlong says. “All of these Tea-Party-style groups are targeting women’s paycheques. This International Women’s Day, the Alberta labour movement is saying ‘enough is enough.’ We’re proud of women have struggled for and won and enough is enough.”
AFL Backgrounder: Study: Attacks on Public Sector Workers Target Women’s Wages
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer at 780-720-8945 (cell) or via email [email protected].
EDMONTON – There's no denying the public sector took a hit in the 2013 Alberta Budget.
In fact, Gil McGowan, the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour claims Thursday's budget introduces the deepest cuts across the public sector that the province has seen since what he calls "the worst days of the Klein era."
As the province aims to deal with a roughly $2 billion deficit, it has flatlined spending. The budget's hard line applies to teachers, nurses, health sciences workers and civil servants. Many are in bargaining or about to start this spring. The budget also revealed about 80 civil service positions will be lost with more job cuts likely as the Redford government continues to reorganize departments.
So what does this all mean for the every day Albertan?
"It will hurt," McGowan says. "It will mean larger class sizes, it will mean less frontline service, and it's going to be very difficult for us to staff all these schools and hospitals that the government promises to build."
He believes that as the wealthiest province in Canada, if anyone should be able to pay for public service to move their economy forward, it's Alberta.
McGowan also thinks that the province's current fiscal problems date back to the time of Premier Ralph Klein.
"While it's true that he got rid of the deficit and the debt, he actually laid the groundwork for the deficit we're dealing with today – by slashing corporate taxes, introducing a flat tax that benefited the wealthy, and presiding over literally billions of dollars of royalty giveaways. When you give away your revenue source, you can't be surprised that you have a hard time funding things."
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University points out that Klein did an "across the board cut."
"This government is using a different approach," he explains. "They want to borrow money, and this is why they've introduced the Fiscal Management Act that will allow them to borrow, and eventually it will create a debt, but they call it 'net financial assets,' so they've come up with a new term to describe the debt situation."
Mensah adds that in addition to trying to sell Albertans on this budget, she also has to sell her party on it.
"I think she needs to convince Tory party members that this new direction is not markedly different from the views in the past. She faces a leadership view in November, and if she's not careful, and doesn't sell this to the membership, there could be trouble politically."
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Doug Horner says he doesn't think public service unions should be surprised that the province did not allow for any salary increase. The government has warned for some months that salaries for teachers, doctors and nurses here are higher than elsewhere, he adds.
"When you look at comparative numbers from across Canada on a market-based perspective, we have the highest paid teachers and highest paid doctors in the country...This is somewhat of a reset for us to get us back to reasonable levels of expenditures."
Global Edmonton, Friday, Mar. 8, 2013
Byline: Trish Kozicka, Global News
Alberta's 2013 budget does little to address the province's chronic revenue problems says the Alberta Federation of Labour
Edmonton – In a province growing as rapidly as Alberta, a zero-per-cent budget increase amounts to a cut says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Speaking to reporters in the legislature rotunda after having spent hours reviewing budget documents, AFL president Gil McGowan said he was disappointed that the budget did little to address the province's chronic revenue problems.
"The finance minister calls this a 'hold-the-line' budget, but really this is a cut-to-the bone budget," McGowan said.
"In a province that's growing by 100,000 people a year, a 0% increase amounts to a substantial cut."
The budget firmly cements Alberta's miserliness when it comes to public services. Even before the cuts in Budget 2013, no other province spent less on public services as a share of its economy than Alberta. Per person, Alberta has the second fewest public employees of any province.
"If Alberta employed the tax system of any other province, we would raise at least $10.6 billion more each year for public services," McGowan said. "Instead we have just another edition of the old Tory playbook: cuts to vital public services, giveaways to big business."
Even though the economy is running red hot and Alberta has an abundance of resources, provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba collect more public revenue per person.
"It's official: the Alberta government has pissed away another oil boom, and ordinary Albertans are going to pay the price through unnecessary cuts," McGowan said. "They promised structural change, but have ignored the obvious structural problem: our broken revenue system."
Since changes to Alberta's income tax laws in 2001, the provincial government has developed a chronic revenue problem, culminating in Budget 2013. This year, the province will not only have sweeping cuts, but also a $451 million deficit.
"Ralph Klein celebrated getting us out of debt by putting us back on the road to debt," McGowan said. "The reason that the Redford Government is having problems with budgeting is that they haven't stopped giving Ralph Bucks to the super rich."
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email [email protected]