Labour fears foreign workers exploited; Temporary employees outnumbered immigrants to Alberta in 2006

EDMONTON - Alberta has become one of the first provinces to bring in more people as temporary foreign workers than through Canada's mainline immigration system, the Alberta Federation of Labour says.

The AFL contends that's bad because the province is relying more and more on workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.

The provincial government says it's good because temporary foreign workers are helping to ease severe labour shortage created by the economic boom.

The latest federal figures show Alberta had 22,392 temporary foreign workers as of Dec. 1, 2006. That's 1,675 more people than the number of immigrants granted permanent residency in Alberta last year.

Newfoundland was the only other province to accept more temporary foreign workers than permanent immigrants.

"We're not opposed to people coming from other countries to work in Canada," AFL president Gil McGowan said Friday. "But if they're going to come here, they should have the hope of becoming citizens."

These workers are less likely to stand up for themselves, so some employers take advantage of them, McGowan said.

He said the AFL has heard from dozens of foreign workers who complain employers make wrongful pay deductions, fail to pay overtime and break promises to provide training.

The province should deal with its labour shortage by providing better training for Canadian workers and slowing the pace of oilsands development, McGowan said. He said the immigration system also needs reform.

Lorelei Fiset-Cassidy, speaking for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry, said the temporary foreign-worker program is only for employers who can't find workers in the existing workforce.

"We see help-wanted ads in nearly every storefront and in newspapers across the province," Fiset-Cassidy said. "So we know there is a huge demand that can't be filled with the existing labour force."

She accused McGowan of painting an unfair picture of employers. She said many employers are offering language training as well as housing. "Retention is something employers are very concerned about. Obviously, it's in their interest to treat temporary foreign workers fairly."

Companies increasingly use a provincial nominee program to help foreign workers become citizens, she said. Last year nearly 1,000 workers were sponsored, Fiset-Cassidy said. "We're looking to more than double that this year."

Edmonton Journal, Page B5, Sat July 7 2007
Byline: Duncan Thorne

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