Temporary foreign workers seek Alberta jobs

I wrote this piece back in 2012. With recent stories in the news about temporary foreign workers having to leave Canada, I thought it would be fitting to share this again.

Lawyer says ‘let them immigrate’

Every year temporary foreign workers from around the world come to Alberta under the Temporary foreign worker program to make up for labour shortages and to find work opportunities.

In 2007, Phil Johnny was trying to do just that.

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Johnny came to Canada from St. Lucia, a small Caribbean Island, as a semi-skilled worker. This means that, with a work permit, he could work a job that required a secondary education as long as it provided on-the-job training.

“Back home, yes, there are some good jobs,” Johnny says. “There are just so few of them.”

He was offered a job in Calgary with a wholesale foods company as a material handler. This job gave him work experience in a new country, but Johnny says that he was misled and mistreated there.

“We were being lied to on a daily basis, and being threatened on a daily basis,” he says.
He stayed in the job for less than a year.

“Before we came to Canada we were told our flag would be flying outside of work,” he says. “We would get a pay raise within three to six months of working.”

Johnny says he was never given that raise.

He was given a place to live with six other people, but believes he was paid less than Mexican and Canadian workers who were employed in the same job. Housing was provided in the home of the boss’ brother and other workers.

Johnny requested to live somewhere else but the company did nothing.

His boss’ brother said he was “going to make their lives a living hell at home and at work.”

After obtaining another work permit, and dealing with being underpaid, Johnny has since married a Canadian woman, started a family and is still living and working in Calgary.

Problems with the temporary foreign worker program

Yessy Byl specializes in labour law and is now an advocate with the Alberta Federation of Labour. She has provided legal services to temporary foreign workers. According to Byl there are a lot of problems with the temporary foreign worker program, and she says it should be scrapped.

“It’s a slave-owner mentality,” she says. “It’s quite appalling.

“It’s created this huge illegal workforce and so many social problems,” Byl adds. She notes that the Chinese workers in the 1800s at least came as permanent residents.

She has seen people who have paid a lot of money to come to Canada only to find the job did not materialize or they were paid less than promised.

“We need immigrants, we need skilled workers,” Byl says. “Let them immigrate.”

She’s heard of employers having temporary foreign workers come to their homes to shovel their driveways and mow their lawns without pay. If the workers complain they get fired.

But not all temporary foreign workers have such a negative experience.

Benefits of the program

Sheldon Sonny, hired by Arcticor Structures as a temporary foreign worker in 2007, also came from St. Lucia for the travel experience and money.

In 2009 he married a Canadian and now has his permanent residency. He no longer needs a work permit and can work anywhere.

Sonny says that he knew what he was getting into and was given information about the money he was going to make before he arrived in Canada.

“I don’t feel like they took advantage, I knew they were looking for cheap labour,” he says.

Zoe Cooper is a spokesperson with Alberta Human Services. She explains in an email that the government has employment standards in place for all workers.

“Because employment standards inspections are based on claims, the inspection statistics are skewed to reflect worksites that may be more prone to have possible non-compliance.”

Zoe Cooper is a spokesperson with Alberta Human Services. She explains in an email that the government has employment standards in place for all workers.

“Because employment standards inspections are based on claims, the inspection statistics are skewed to reflect worksites that may be more prone to have possible non-compliance.”

“The vast majority of employees in Alberta experience absolutely no problems when it comes to being paid properly.”

The government of Alberta Human Services department offers anyone the ability to review employers to see if they have unsatisfied judgments on unpaid employee earnings.

Johnny says he has advice for new temporary foreign workers: “be aware of untrustworthy employers and research your rights as employees.”

Online information, temporary foreign worker advising offices and helplines, as well as an Employment Standards Contact Centre are all available on the Human Services.

Temporary foreign workers can also file complaints to the ministry of Human Services Employment Standards Complaint Form and for union workers through the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Still Need Workers

From an economic standpoint, temporary foreign workers are important to fill jobs to reduce the labour shortage.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce chief economist, Ben Brunnen says temporary foreign workers are necessary in Calgary, but the system must be streamlined in order to meet employment demands.

Brunnen says it is important that there are “sufficient paths of permanent residency.”

Because temporary foreign workers become valuable to their companies, he wants to see employers working with source countries to find the skills that are really necessary, especially in an “economic lull.”

He says the new wage structure, the 15 per cent less that the Alberta Federation of Labour refers to, is based on a regions median wage for a specific occupation. It is to ensure that temporary foreign workers are paid the same as Canadians but not paid more than Canadians in the same jobs.

A 2010 Canadian Chamber of Commerce report looking at Canada’s aging work force and a continued and growing demand for specific skills found there would be shortages in specific skills. In the next 10 years Canada will be dealing with shortages of 163,000 in construction, 30,000 oil workers, 37,000 truckers and 10,000 skilled steel trades people.

“It’s all about having the right people, with the right skills at the right time.” Carolyn Gregson, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education says.

There are resources in Alberta for temporary foreign workers who have questions or concerns.

The ministry of Human Services has resources in place for temporary foreign workers. Online information, temporary foreign worker advising offices, helplines as well as an Employment Standards Contact Centre, these are all available on the Human Services website.

Temporary foreign workers can also file complaints to the ministry of Human Services Employment Standards Complaint Form and for union workers through the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Open for five years in Calgary and Edmonton, the Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office deals with thousands of questions and complaints and inquiries every year.

“The offices provide a wide range of services and referrals to numerous agencies,” Jay Fisher explains. He is a Public Affairs Officer for Alberta Human Services.

“Specific complaints about health and safety are referred to Occupational Health and Safety,” he says. “Complaints about improper pay are referred to Employment Standards.”

Fisher says the Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Offices in Calgary and Edmonton in 2011 made 4,055 referrals , of those referrals:

  • 258 related to employment standards,
  • 81 to Service Alberta, 15 to Health and Safety,
  • 683 went to Immigrate Alberta,
  • 17 went to the Workers Compensation Board,
  • 73 went to the Alberta Human Rights Commission,
  • 209 went to Service Canada,
  • 337 went to Citizenship and Immigration Canada,
  • 345 went to a variety of non-profit agencies, 53 to Police, and 1,984 were to other organizations.

There are many resources for temporary foreign workers in Alberta. With the aging population there will continue to be a need for more workers in the coming years.

Phil Johnny, who says he was misled and mistreated by employers, has advice for new temporary foreign workers: “be aware of untrustworthy employers and research your rights as employees.”

For More Information on the Temporary foreign worker program visit:

The Government of Alberta website.

Related Links:

Changing the Canvas

Alberta Federation of Labour

Does temporary foreign workers program create second class of labourers

New wage structure

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www.thoughtsinamoment.com blogger. mom. beautybounter. public relations.

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