Federal government cancels Alberta temporary foreign worker pilot program

posted on September 4, 2014

By Journal of Commerce | Link to Article

By Journal of Commerce | Link to Article

BY RUSSELL HIXSON – The Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits, which assisted companies in drawing from specialized labour overseas to fill high demand positions in Alberta, has not been renewed by the federal government.

“We were very disappointed,” said Line Pourfon, VP of government relations for Merit Contractor’s Association.

The last day for applications was in July. Those permits will expire by 2017.

The program, part of the larger Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program, allowed immigration Canada to issue occupation specific work permits for skilled jobs in high demand.

These included steamfitters, pipefitters, estimators, welders, heavy duty equipment mechanics, iron workers, millwrights and industrial mechanics.

The workers needed the appropriate certification or a letter of approval from apprenticeship boards.

This streamlined the process by avoiding the usually needed labour market opinion.

Pourfon said the feds did consultations on the program in the spring.

She said Merit’s experience was that the contractors’ response to the program was overwhelmingly positive.

After being cancelled, the program came under attack from the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The federation alleges that the workers aren’t qualified and don’t speak English, leading to unsafe working conditions.

“When it comes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, we’ve raised concerns about wage suppression, exploitation of foreign workers and the displacement of Canadians. But now it’s becoming clear that the program also has serious implications for workplace safety,” said AFL president Gil McGowan in a statement to the media.

Pourfon said she believes that specific allegations of unsafe work need to be investigated individually.

Those companies need to be held accountable rather than punishing the whole industry, she said.

Pourfon cited the recent overhaul of the entire TFW program as an example of government using a sledge hammer as opposed to a scalpel.

“We would like to see it company specific instead of industry specific,” she said.

The province is currently in dialogue with the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration regarding the cancelled program.

If the program remains cancelled, Pourfon is wondering what the government will do instead to address the looming job crunch projected to reach 96,0000 positions in 10 years.

“The need is very strong in terms of specific trades,” she said.

“We are seeing the bubble come down.”

She said if the crisis is not addressed, Alberta could shift into a high cost environment, something Merit does not want to see.

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