The Canadian government sanctioned lower pay for thousands of temporary foreign workers (TFW) compared to Canadian workers in 2013, documents obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) show.
"These documents are a snapshot of what was happening while Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for the program, was telling the public he had taken steps to better monitor and enforce the rules around the program," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
"Behind closed doors, they knew the rules were being bent and broken, and they knew thousands of TFWs were being underpaid and used as pawns to drive down wages for all Albertans."
In 2013, 3,718 individual positions were approved across Canada in the low-skill categories, under 535 Labour Market Opinions (LMO).
Of those permits, the vast majority — 2,122 of them — were issued to employers in Alberta under 294 Labour Market Opinions.
TFWs were brought in to be paid less than Canadians as truck drivers, shipping and receiving, service station attendants, as health care workers, nurse aides, front desk clerks, metal fabrication labourers, delivery drivers and woodworking machine operators.
The list also included heavy equipment operators, machining tool operators, automotive mechanics, mine labourers, and concrete, clay, and stone forming operators.
"As you look at these documents, it’s pretty clear that the problems in the Temporary Foreign Worker program extend far beyond the food services industry," McGowan said.
"These documents show the TFW program is being used to keep wages low and to pay people less than what is paid to Canadians."
TFW Program regulations give Minister Kenney’s department the power to deny work permits if wages offered a worker are below prevailing regional wages for that particular occupation.
"PC leadership candidates, Conservative Members of Parliament, even Justin Trudeau are whining about the changes to the TFW Program," McGowan said.
"Whenever you hear a politician fighting to expand the TFW program, you know that they’re working for low-wage lobbyists and insiders, not for the good of Albertans."
The employment minister rolled out sweeping changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, placing strict restrictions and penalties on those who use it.
Some businesses have criticized the changes, saying they make it harder to fill positions in provinces with high labour demand.
The changes included limits on how many low-wage temporary foreign workers can be used by a site and harsh penalties for non-compliant employers.
Companies will also be required to annually apply to hire the workers rather than every two years.
The application cost will be $1,000 per employee, up from $275.
The changes came after allegations that some companies were abusing the program.