Kyle Fawcett, Alberta's new minister of jobs, training, skills and labour, says he has been talking to the federal government about sharing responsibility for temporary foreign workers. So far there hasn't been much interest, he says. CBC
Kyle Fawcett, Alberta's labour minister, is pushing Ottawa for more control over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Fawcett says the province is in a good position to help monitor the program to ensure it is not being abused and to impose appropriate penalties.
Temporary foreign workers filed at least 250 complaints across Canada about employers mistreating them last year, braving a system that critics say is designed to work against them.
Only three provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador — routinely track complaints made by migrant workers.
"We have made a pitch to work co-operatively with the federal government," Fawcett said. "That pitch has met limited interest. I have had a conversation with [federal Employment] Minister [Jason] Kenney and expressed our desire to work co-operatively with him. I think he does recognize the unique circumstances of Alberta."
Those circumstances include a low unemployment rate.
Alberta has repeatedly found itself struggling with a labour shortage in low-skilled and high turnover industries.
The request comes after Kenney announced on April 24 that the government would be suspending the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for the fast-food industry.
Labour market needs
Earlier this month, a website mapped government authorizations of temporary foreign workers around the country up until the end of 2012.
The information was released by the federal Human Resources and Skills Development ministry under an access to information request.
It showed that contrary to claims by businesses that the program bolsters the workforce in rural or remote areas, the vast majority of temporary foreign workers were approved in the three major urban centres of Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
In Calgary, 299 of the 718 businesses that received authorizations in that period were restaurants, pubs and fast-food outlets — or 41 per cent.
"We do have 5,500 spots per year in the provincial nominee program, but we are seeing a backlog in that program now," said Fawcett.
"And we think we actually need to raise that number so that we can actually get permanent foreign workers in here, because we know there is a need for this."
There are predictions that Alberta will need more than 25,000 more workers over the next 10 years in the oilsands alone.
Fawcett said the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is one of the keys to the puzzle of solving that.
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"Particularly for the three western provinces, which actually account for a significant portion of the temporary foreign workers," he said.
"It would allow us to meet our labour market needs while allowing some of the other provinces, that do have some challenges around their unemployment numbers and finding opportunities for those that are in their province, to have a program that meets those needs."