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EDMONTON - Temporary foreign workers should be allowed to immigrate to Canada work hard and apply for citizenship the way generations of immigrants did before them, labour leader Gil McGowan says.
The federal government’s temporary foreign workers program has essentially “privatized immigration” and exploited these workers, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour says.
“Instead of Canadians as a country deciding what mechanism should be used to bring in people to this country to build the country for future generations, they’ve created a program that essentially privatizes immigration and allows employers to make a decision about who to bring into the country and to pay for them,” McGowan told about 200 temporary foreign workers’ during a community forum on the weekend hosted by Migrante Alberta, a migrant workers advocacy group.
Rachel Notley, the provincial New Democrats labour critic, and an aide to Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan who also spoke at the forum, echoed the call for the federal government to scrap the temporary foreign worker program and use immigration to fill gaps in the labour market.
The temporary foreign worker program was created by the federal government eight years ago to fill shortages in the Canadian labour market. Every year, thousands of foreign workers from countries such as the Philippines, Mexico, India and South American come to Canada through the program. There are currently 85,000 TFWs in Alberta and more than 300,000 working in Canada, many working for minimum wage or less.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney placed a moratorium on the program in late April because of abuses by some fast-food employers that had come to light. Many TFWs have lost their jobs because of the moratorium and their future in Canada is in limbo, with many forced to have to leave if their work permits expire before the moratorium is lifted.
The program is being revamped and the minister is expected to announce new rules in early June.
“In past generations when people came to this country, there was a deal that you came here, you worked hard and in exchange for your hard work we’d give you the opportunity of citizenship. You came here for your families, set down roots, became part of the community, bought a home and planned for a future,” McGowan said.
Temporary foreign workers were made promises but their dreams are shattered from the beginning “because the paths of permanency were almost nonexistent, and the few paths to permanency that had existed for the low-skilled stream were almost entirely eliminated a few years ago when the federal government put a cap on the number of people that could be nominated for permanent residency.”
That number in Alberta is only a few thousand every year and almost all of those spots are filled by highly skilled workers or their families, McGowan said.
The TFW program has also created tension between temporary foreign workers and Canadians workers who are concerned TFWs are “being used as pawns by many employers to drive down wages and conditions,” he noted.
All TFWs currently in Canada should be given permanent residence, McGowan said.
Alberta Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk told the forum the program should be kept, with improvements, and that permanent residence status should be part of any changes.
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Policy analysis, Current Policy, and Numbers of migrant workers
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Alberta and National relevance
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