Number Of Temporary Foreign Workers In Alberta, B.C. Rises Dramatically

Number of temporary foreign workers in Alberta, B.C. rises dramatically

Staff Writer
Daily Commercial News And Construction Record
August 13, 2008

Alberta and B.C. are experiencing the most rapid increases in the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) of any province in Canada, according to federal government statistics.

The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration recently released figures showing that, as of December 1, 2007, there were 37,257 temporary foreign workers in Alberta.

The total for 2006 was 22,105, which means the number of TFWs increased by 68.5 per cent in one year.

In the last two years, the number of TFWs in Alberta rose by 135 per cent from 15,836 in 2005.

The floodgates have been opened by the federal and Alberta governments, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Its 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.

The 2006 figure for temporary foreign workers in Alberta (22,105) is greater than the 20,717 immigrants granted permanent resident status in the province that year and marked the first time that temporary workers have overtaken traditional immigrants.

TFWs are employed in a wide range of economic sectors in Alberta, including oil sands operations and the construction trades.

According to McGowan, two years ago TFWs worked predominantly in construction; however, the mix is starting to change and there is a trend towards low skill work, such as cooks and chamber maids.

In response to this rapid increase, the provincial government provided several programs to support the workers in the last year.

Last December, workers advisory offices were set up in Edmonton and Calgary to help ensure these vulnerable workers are treated fairly, at a cost of $ 1 million a year.

However, there was a gap in this service, because some concerns fell outside employment standards and workplace safety, such as housing issues and illegal recruitment fees.

In an effort to fill this gap, the provincial government launched a $1.4-million pilot project to provide immigration support services to 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, but these are little more than band-aid solutions, said McGowan.

The real problem is that guest worker programs are bad public policy, no matter how you dress them up.

The federal government statistics also show that there were 43,375 TFWs in B.C. in 2007, a 23 per cent increase from the total of 35,217 in 2006.

In the last two years, the number of TFWs in B.C. rapidly increased by 37 per cent from 32,488 in 2005.

I dont find this surprising at all, given the state of the economy in both provinces in the last five years, said Wayne Peppard, executive director of the B.C. Yukon Territory Building Construction Trades Council.

For B.C. and Alberta there is more of an appetite for bringing foreign workers in to complement the workforce. I think that we are seeing a peak in the number of temporary foreign workers in 2007, with the plateau in residential construction and the completion of major infrastructure projects.

Peppard said another factor causing the peak is that the monitoring and enforcement of the TFW program is now becoming a much greater concern for the provincial and federal governments.