The Temporary Foreign Worker Plan has seen considerable criticism and controversy this year after revelations of low pay, long hours and abuse of the system came to light in the fast food industry. But one provincial labour group says the problems extend beyond just that industry.
The Alberta Federation of Labour says a program that fast-tracked guest workers in the province’s oilsands is endangering the safety of all workers.
Canadian tradesmen from the Husky Sunrise project expressed concerns about “safety hazards and near misses, which they blame on the use of foreign workers who aren’t qualified and can’t speak English,” according to a CBC report.
The workers were reportedly hired through the Alberta Pilot for Occupation-Specific Work Permits, a special fast-track stream of the temporary foreign worker program.
“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,” AFL president Gil McGowan says.
“What we’re seeing is that employers have been using the Alberta Occupation-Specific pilot program to hire unskilled workers to do skilled work in oilsands construction. Without the proper skills and training, these workers are putting themselves and others at risk of serious injury or even death.”
The AFL estimates that less than a quarter of workers hired under the Occupation-Specific fast track are fully qualified as tradespeople, and that an estimated 2,000 workers brought in through the pilot are still at Alberta worksites.
“When it comes to safety issues, the government shouldn’t just be waiting around for these work permits to expire,” McGowan said. “If there are workers on these sites who are not trained, and who pose a risk to their co-workers, the government needs to act.”
Alberta faces one of the biggest employment gaps, but temporary, unskilled workers are not the answer, the labour group said.
“The program is too broken, so it just needs to end,” said Siobhan Vipond, secretary treasurer of the AFL. “We need immigration, not exploitation, and we need an investment in Canadians to ensure that they are getting the jobs to support their families.”