Temporary Foreign Workers No Cure-All: Labour Leader

Temporary foreign workers no cure-all: labour leader

April 1, 2008

EDMONTON – Temporary foreign workers are not the magic bullet employers and governments believe them to be, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour said today.

“Employers and governments have embraced the Temporary Foreign Worker program as a silver bullet to deal with Alberta's increasingly tight labour market, but we'll be demonstrating that the program is failing both Canadians and foreign workers badly,” said Gil McGowan.

McGowan and several union representatives plan to address the House of Commons standing committee on citizenship and immigration this afternoon in Edmonton. The committee is holding hearings across the country to gather information for a report on the program.

The provincial government revealed Monday that it has received more than 800 complaints from foreign labourers in the past 31/2 months, most involving perceived unfair wage deductions, fees charged by recruitment agencies and accommodation issues.

Mike Percy, dean of business at the University of Alberta, said miscommunication and sheer volume are likely at the root of many of these complaints, but he added they need to be dealt with quickly to secure the province's – and the country's – reputation.

“We need to be transparent in terms of the rules and in terms of the expectations of all parties,” Percy said. “Eight hundred is a large number and some of that is driven by the sheer volume of foreign workers and miscommunication on the part of these brokers.

“Some of that miscommunication may be intentional, and if it is we need to deal with it as harshly as we can,” he said.

Presentations from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will be made to the committee this afternoon. Both unions represent thousands of workers in the two sectors seeing the most dramatic spikes in the use of temporary foreign workers – the construction and service sectors.