Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says time is becoming a critical factor in solving the temporary foreign worker shortage, but he dismissed criticism that an exploitative province is to blame.Prentice plans soon to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss, among other issues, the temporary foreign worker changes that he says have hit Alberta’s roaring economy hard.They’re quite prepared in most of the cases I’ve seen to pay a premium to get people here. They just can’t find people given the red hot economyIn June, Harper’s government brought in rules to limit the number of foreign workers that large and medium-sized companies can hire, to ensure Canadians are first in line for jobs.Alberta and its oilsands engine have led the nation in growth during the past 20 years. Despite 100,000 newcomers a year, Alberta has grown heavily reliant on temporary foreign workers.As of December 2012, there were more than 68,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta — 20% of the Canadian total.Prentice said rule changes are starting to hit home, particularly in rural areas and in agriculture.Prentice is not the only western leader expressing concerns.This week, B.C. Premier Christy Clark told the province’s business community that training young people and wooing skilled workers from other provinces simply won’t be enough to meet the labour needs of her envisioned liquefied natural gas industry.However federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney reaffirmed to a conference in Ottawa Thursday that there will not be any changes to the June rules.Kenney said that in Alberta the program has been “overused.” He noted that wages in the fast-food sector have not kept up with the rate of inflation.Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the temporary foreign worker program — far from bolstering the labour situation — has been a catalyst for placing downward pressure on wages.Last week, the AFL presented examples of various Alberta companies getting the green light to bring in temporary foreign workers despite paying wages substantially below the prevailing rate.McGowan, in an interview, said it becomes self-fulfilling economic principle: underpaid foreign workers drive wages down across the board, serving as a disincentive for Canadians to take those jobs, in turn creating a demand for even more temporary foreign workers.Kenney has suggested the impact on the changes in Alberta have been overstated.He said when the new limits are fully implemented in 2016, it will be the equivalent of Alberta losing just 8,000 low paid jobs relative to 2013, less than one per cent of the province’s workforce.
Source: National Post