Alberta and B.C. labour unions demand changes to temporary foreign worker program

Unions in B.C. and Alberta are demanding changes be made to the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program to allow for permanent residency.

However, this pathway to citizenship has already been rejected by the federal government, despite a report recommending otherwise.

"We believe there should be something like the Canadian Experience Class that applies to the construction industry," said Wayne Peppard, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council (BCYT-BCTC).

"If you are going to invite temporary foreign workers to come to work, they must be able to move into the industry they have experience in. They should be able to come and have an access portal to become fully landed."

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration recently released a report on the temporary foreign worker program, after traveling across the country to gather information The report focuses on specific issues including the transition from temporary to permanent resident and recommends that TFWs have the chance to gain residency.

"The committee believes that all temporary foreign workers in the current programs should have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency after meeting certain criteria, an opportunity not currently universally available to them," said the report.

"The committee recognizes that many workers and employers desire their employment arrangement to be permanent and we feel that permanent migration is in Canada's best interests."

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) recently released a report of its own recommending that TFWs be allowed to stay. The report by the AFL's temporary foreign worker advocate said Alberta's Immigrant Nominee Program, the only avenue available to most foreign workers for permanent residence, is too restrictive and far too small to be effective.

"Only four per cent of foreign workers are accepted into the program, even though the bulk of foreign workers come with the expectation and hope of permanent settlement, which was deliberately fostered by brokers and the government," it said.

In contrast, the committee report was impressed with the way Saskatchewan and Manitoba use the TFW program to meet long-term labour market demand.

"Their strategic approach and collaboration between business, government, and community sectors is a good news story that might be of interest to other jurisdictions," it states. "

All measures should be taken to facilitate the transition from temporary worker to permanent resident through the provincial nominee avenue."

In response to the union demands, Conservative committee members submitted a minority report that rejects the recommendation.

"We oppose any move to alter the design of the temporary foreign worker to make it a permanent program in all but name," said Rick Dykstra, parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration. "That would undermine the integrity of the federal skilled worker program and, thus, our immigration system."

The committee also recommended that immediate family members be allowed to get an open work permit and a fee be collected from employers for emergency support of the unemployed.

However, Dykstra said the program shouldn't allow family members into the labour market without a separate Labour Market Opinion.

"In rural communities, an influx of individuals with open work permits would drastically distort the local labour market, displacing local youth and Canadian visible minorities from entry level employment positions, essentially pricing them out of the local labour market," he said.

Other committee recommendations include: discontinuing employer specific work permits; penalties against employers who abuse workers and fail to comply with contractual obligations; providing information about unscrupulous recruiters and report cases of abuse to law enforcement agencies; and monitoring of working and living conditions.

"The standing committee report is the first acknowledgement by federal politicians about the radical impact of the guest worker program on Canadian society and economy," said Peppard.

"Now it's up to the government and minister Kenney to stop the abuse and exploitation of temporary foreign workers."

Journal of Commerce, Mon Jun 1 2009
Byline: Richard Gilbert

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