In 2006, Alberta became the first province in Canada to bring more workers into the country under the TFW program than under the mainline immigration program. In 2007, that troubling trend accelerated with the number of TFWs growing to nearly double the number of new immigrants coming to the province.
The official figures show that, as of December 1, 2007, there were 37, 257 temporary foreign workers in Alberta. That's up from 22,105 in 2006, 15,836 in 2005 and a mere 7,288 in 1997.
To put it another way: there are now more than twice as many TFWs in Alberta today than there were two years ago and more than five times as many as a decade ago. While Ontario and B.C. are still home to more TFWs (82,873 and 43,375 in 2007 respectively), no other province has experienced as dramatic an increase as Alberta.
"The floodgates have been opened by the federal and Alberta governments," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "It's now clear that the ever-increasing use of exploitable guest workers has become a central plank in the Tories' strategy to deal with the tight labour market in Alberta."
McGowan says the problem with relying on temporary foreign workers to deal with labour shortages is that they are much more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation than Canadian citizens or immigrants on the path to citizenship.
"We have to be clear about what's going on here," says McGowan. "The TFW program is not immigration. The people brought into the country under the program are not being treated like previous generations of workers who came to Canada from abroad. Many of them are being misled and taken advantage of by unscrupulous brokers and employers. And the vast majority of them will never become citizens � even though they come to Canada with that goal. We're in the process of creating a vast underclass of disposable workers."
Since creating its own advocacy office for TFWs in April 2007, the AFL has played a leading role in exposing the abuses faced by many foreign workers when they arrive in Alberta. Pressure from the AFL and other concerned groups has led the Alberta government to establish its own modest advocate program for TFWs and, more recently, to free up some money to help provide settlement services for TFWs.
"The Alberta government has lately been attempting to paper over some of the big holes left in the Temporary Foreign Worker program by the federal government," says McGowan. "But these are little more than band-aid solutions. The real problem is that guest worker programs are bad public policy, no matter how you dress them up."
What's needed, says McGowan, is something that Conservatives in Ottawa and Edmonton never bothered to do before they dramatically expanded the TFW program � and that's public debate.
"The TFW program is a train wreck. It's bad for foreign workers and it's bad for Canada. What we need is an open and wide-ranging public debate about the best solutions for Canada's long-term labour force needs. And that debate needs to involve more than just backroom consultations with CEOs looking for a quick and easy fix to their labour force problems."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)
To view the complete figures on temporary foreign workers and traditional immigrants released recently by Citizenship and Immigration Canada visit the following web addresses:
Stock of Temporary Foreign Workers, 2003-2007, by Provinces and Major Urban Areas
Permanent Residents by Province and Major Urban Area, 1998-2007