Low-wage employers in Alberta are blowing smoke when they whine about labour shortages

Examination of Alberta jobs data shows that labour shortage claims from groups like CFIB are nothing but hot air


Edmonton – The federal government should tell low-wage employers and the Alberta government to “quit their whining” about recent changes to the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker program, said AFL president Gil McGowan as he released a new study showing that there is no economy-wide labour shortage in Alberta.


The study, entitled “Truth or Scare: Are Claims of a Labour Shortage in Alberta Based on Evidence?” uses empirical, Alberta-specific jobs data to examine the issue — as opposed to the kind of studies released by the CFIB, which rely on surveys of employers who have an incentive to overstate the difficultly they’re having filling positions.


“The labour shortage is basically a myth created by employers who want to keep wages low in the face of economic conditions which suggest they should be going up,” McGowan said. “It’s a myth that’s been used to promote policies like the TFW program that are bad for Canadians.”


Using a test for labour shortage developed by the Federal government’s own economists, the AFL study found that that there is no labour shortage in most sectors of the Alberta economy, including lower-skill, lower-wage sectors like retail, accommodation and food services.


“Now that the federal government has finally put some limits on the ability of low-wage employers to use the TFW program to drive down wages, groups like the CFIB are whining and trying to resurrect the labour-shortage boogeyman,” McGowan said. “This report exposes these complaints for what they really are: empty rhetoric from a group of self-interested whiners who want to short-circuit the healthy operation of the Canadian labour market.”


Experts agree that there is a three-part test to see if a labour shortage really exists. First, employment levels have to go up significantly. Second, unemployment rates have to go down significantly. And third, wages have to go up significantly. By these measures, with the notable exception of a very small number of occupations related to the energy sector, there is no labour shortage in Alberta.


According to Employment Minister Jason Kenney, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in Alberta has increased by 14 per cent, and overall wages have increased 31 per cent since 2006. But in Alberta’s food services industry, wages have only increased eight per cent over the same period.


“Employers can’t say Canadians are unwilling to fill the jobs on offer until they’ve actually increased wages in keeping with changing market conditions,” McGowan said “What our study shows is that Alberta’s labour market is booming – but we’re not dealing with any economy-wide shortages.”


Although the AFL’s report is the first comprehensive look at available data, this is not the first time that the labour shortage has been shown to be fake. Over the past year, the Parliamentary Budget Office, former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the University of Alberta Economics Department and Fraser Institute Fellow Herb Emery have all released reports that debunk the labour shortage myth.


Key findings in the report:

• Retail Trade exhibits neither a shortage of workers nor rising wages.

• From 2010 to 2013, wages in wholesale trade fell

• From 2010 to 2013, wages in accommodation and food services stagnated

• Between 2007 and 2011, 23,100 Albertans enrolled in an apprenticeship program, but only 9,066 completed those programs

• The only occupational categories that saw rapidly rising wages as a result of shortages were in limited energy-related sub-categories.

• Manufacturing and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services saw wages increase a third and a quarter below average.


Link:  “Truth or Scare”







Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
[email protected]



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